A swiftish follow-up to last year’s Aye Me, the Norwich singer-songwriter’s third album continues to draw on both English and Americana influences, her storytelling as sharp and as engaging as ever, her distinctive claw-hammer guitar technique (perfectly illustrated on the poignant, summery crooning ‘Freckles In The Sun’ and the bubbling ragtime-cum-trad ‘Round And Round’) still beguiling.
Save for an uncluttered reading of trad chestnut ‘Silver Dagger’, the songs are all self-penned, variously inspired by her globetrotting and personal experiences, many in the form of parables exploring the relationships between people and places and the demands or the sacrifices the one requires of the other.
Her breathy voice now rather more seasoned than the little girl innocence of earlier work, the lyrics lean more to matters of the heart (frequently sung from a male perspective) than the hard times on her last outing, splendidly illustrated by ‘Adam And Genevieve’’s strings-washed tale of regret and growing apart, subtly hinting at the fall in ‘Eden’, and the choppy ‘Annie Of Greyfriars’, its besotted suitor pledging his love to the girl who works in the fish market down at the docks, while the wry ‘Cavalier’ takes pre-emptive defence against being hurt as she sings “you will age ungracefully and blame all your losses on me, it’s best to get on your horse and be, cavalier.” Even the protagonist of the rolling ‘Lone Cashier’, the Bonnie and Clyde story of a robbery gone wrong, promises to steal the stars and the moon for his lover, even though he knows he’s “not everything a man should be”.
There are songs that do step somewhat outside romance’s tender vicious circle; the Americana-hued Movie Scene reminds that life through the windscreen is never like that on the big screen, the Dylanesque Modern World reflects on being an old soul feeling out of place in today’s rush, album opener The Last Song tells of a songbird sacrificing itself to stop a school of whales from heading towards a whaling ship while The Missionary (from whence comes the album title, a reference to a village in Kenya) talks of hardships and sacrifices made in pursuit of a calling.
Like the best, most enduring works, it reveals its charms and observations unfussily, rather than pushing them in your face, and taking the time to discover them is all part of the listening pleasure.
Artist website www.jessmorgan.co.uk
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