‘Neon Cross’ is the eagerly awaited first full length release from Jaime Wyatt, who impressed many listeners on her tours to the UK in 2018 and 2019, the last of these concluding at the Long Road Festival in September 2019.
Songs of troubled times, broken hearts and drink and drugs are staples of Country and Americana, but Wyatt has a back story to rival many, encompassing addiction, a spell in jail in L.A. for robbing her dealer, and coming out as gay shortly before the release of her debut EP ‘Felony Blues’ in 2017.
These experiences are reflected in her songs, all but one self penned or co-written, never more so than in stand out track ‘By Your Side’, written after the death of her father, followed soon after by the death of her best friend from an overdose. In her words ‘I wasn’t able to show up for either of them because I was loaded’, and in the song she sings “Cigarettes and time, ketamine and wine, there’s all these faceless opponents who talk like they own us inside… By your side/Oh how I tried and lied/I’ll never stop givin’ up, givin’ up on you”.
Wyatt’s vocals are powerful and heartfelt, the emotion shining through, often with a soulful edge in her tone and phrasing, notably on opening track ‘Sweet Mess’ and ‘By Your Side’, while on another stand out track, the slow tempo ‘Just a Woman’ where she duets with Jessi Colter, there are echoes of Lucinda Williams distinctive style.
Production is by Shooter Jennings—son of Waylon—who has Grammys for his production work for Brandi Carlile and Tanya Tucker, and he excels in bringing a fresh and energised sound to the album, while respecting Wyatt’s roots in country music, and his own family musical heritage—his mother the afore mentioned Jessi Colter being a renowned pioneer of outlaw country.
Opening track ‘Sweet Mess’ immediately announces that we are not in mainstream country mode, the piano intro backed with spacey pedal steel before Wyatt’s expressive vocals tell a tale we suspect is autobiographical, as she sings “God bless you, sweet mess/You never see the little things before you/I’ll guess that, just like all the rest, I’ll be forgotten”.
Title track ‘Neon Cross’ is an up tempo rocker, with insistent driving drum beat, while we stay in rock territory for ‘Make Something Outta Me’, with striking guitar riffs from the late great Neal Casal, long time collaborator with Ryan Adams, and lead guitarist with many bands including GospelbeacH, in his last recordings before he passed away last year.
Casal adds some splendid guitar throughout, featuring on most tracks, also adding harmonica on ‘LIVIN’, a two step closer to regular country, and Wurlitzer on several tracks — the album is dedicated to him.
The only track not written by Wyatt is the closing track, ‘Demon Tied to a Chair in My Brain’, an unsettling number in waltz time, the prominent fiddle leaning to the sound of the Velvet Underground’s early years with John Cale.
Wyatt’s country roots are reflected throughout by those familiar lyrical themes of loss and pain, and by tasty pedal steel from John Shreffer Jr., featured on most tracks.
Although some seek to pigeon hole Wyatt, as the ‘Queer Queen of Outlaw Country’ (The Advocate), her first full album release deserves to find a wider audience, with its potent vocals, impeccable production and fine writing.
1. Sweet Mess
2. Neon Cross
3. L I V I N
4. Make Something Outta Me
5. By Your Side
6. Just A Woman (Featuring Jessi Colter)
7. Goodbye Queen
9. Rattlesnake Girl
10. Hurt So Bad (Featuring Shooter Jennings)
11. Demon Tied To A Chair In My Brain
Review written by David Jarman (twitter.com/davidjpj)