The title of American Singer Songwriter Jay Woodward’s album ‘Letters We Told’, together with the cover of wide country expanse and ‘Big Sky’- initially had my mind thinking of those classic Americana, alt Country, porch’n’prairie style albums that have appeared regularly since the mid-nineties- folks grabbing the flame REM had lit- and running with it. Indeed the first track off the album, ‘Mandolina’, would nail that forethought except, on hearing it, those visions of the Great Mid-West dissipated.
Jay, from living in California, West Virginia and New York, has picked up sounds and themes from these areas- the focus on acoustic guitar/ Mandolin and the afore-mentioned Americana sound, there are techniques in his production, a tape deck sampled in ‘The Truth’, the sound of a needle hitting the grooves of a record to begin ‘I Will Be Glad’ etc. reminded me of California’s own Christopher Owens ‘Girls’ imprint. New York is featured by the desperation, isolation and general loneliness felt in a bustling Metropolis.
Back to ‘Mandolina’, rather than West Virginia, it sounded to me almost Elizabethan, like a chamber music reel, for guests to dance to. None of this, however, may be historically correct- just the image it conjured up. Underlying the cyclical nature of the lead instrument, there is a bass swell, that gives a certain warmth, and in later songs an almost intimidating presence- almost.
When Jay sings, in hushed tones about loves lost and remembered, the everyday toil being too much and general introspection, his delivery, coupled with the Anglophile sound of the opener, the underlying synth atmospheres and the general laid back feel- it was Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, and specifically ‘The Pro’s And Con’s Of Hitch-hiking’ that was gnawing at my conscience.
For me, the stand out track is ‘Believe The Honest In Your Veins’, thematically the idea of those around you- Your Dad, Your Boss etc.-being blind to the reality you see and the schools ensuring you conform and the Government ‘taking all the rest’, echoed Waters themes in The Wall as well as Carpenter’s ‘They Live’. The reference to ‘a Stairway in the clouds’ bought to my mind Scott Walkers’ ‘Big Louise’ and her ‘Fire escape in the sky’ – a place to finally be free of all THIS…
The album is largely an acoustic affair, with the atmospherics and quirky samples placed just-so and indeed, the only drums come in on penultimate track ‘Don’t Fall Asleep’, with its slow, creeping pace giving a Trent Reznor-like feel.
I’ve mentioned various artists I feel influenced the feel of the album, but this album does only hint at these, and stands out strongly as more than the sum of its parts. It’s an album to drift along to or get lost in- and I’ll certainly be following Jay’s progress.