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I once read an article that claimed the very best music for growing plants was the voice of Joan Baez; researchers claimed Baez’s golden pipes were even more beneficial than classical music for the growth capacity of our green co-inhabitants of this planet. I’d like to posit another fine voice in the Most Soothing category, one that will comfort both plant life (theoretically, since I haven’t actually tried it) and we weary human beings.
Jessica Graae is a serious talent, whose recent release, Sea Dream, is a quantum leap forward from her last outing, entitled Gypsy Blood. While Gypsy Blood is a great introduction to this fine singer and her agile vocals and songwriting skills, Sea Dream digs further into the depths of her talents, assisted by a fine group of the Philly area’s best session players and the deft production skills of Jim Salome.
Graae is at her very best when she seems to pierce the very taproot of the timeless, the mythic, and the epic in everything that’s best about musical history. I first encountered her at a live performance in the summer of 2015, and was pleasantly stunned at her dexterity with melody and guitar figures. One song in particular seemed to directly channel music and mood from the Anglo-Saxon era.
From the opening tracks of Sea Dream, a shanty entitled “Sea’s Siren,” it’s clear that Graae is continuing to dig deeply into the archetypal aspects of music. She not only tells a good story – she tells it exceedingly well. The second track, “Tower of Boxes,” provides further evidence of an artist who is deeply in touch with musical tradition and the collective unconscious of a long, winding history of songs, tales, and ballads. The strings are a beautiful addition to many of the songs, placed with loving care by Salome, emphasizing just the right touches in just the right places. Most of the other songs on the disc follow this lead; each taking its place in a canon of tales that seem as timeless as those told by an old sailor just into port.
Graae is impressive, and I’d like to see her succeed. However, Graae does not seem destined to crack the pop market. The two pop-ish tunes don’t pull at the roots of one’s being like the rest of the tracks, which do so eloquently and effectively. We have a fine artist working toward her peak. Yet, I can’t get it out of my mind that I want to hear some of these songs (and that voice! Yes, THAT voice!) with either an Early Music accompaniment of lute, harp, and viol or a medieval Nordic accompaniment along the lines of Wardruna’s Yggdrasil.
Oh, well. Call me silly to entertain such thoughts in a computer-generated world of pop music, but Graae IS the real deal. Catch her live, and see for yourself. Even better, buy the disc – it’s a more than welcome relief from the dregs currently scraped from the bottom of the contemporary radio play list.
In her closing tune on the disc, Graae sings, “I was a freak beyond all imagination” and “I never looked in mirrors.” If her freakishness means producing this kind of music in opposition to the times, we should be very glad she’s a freak. As Graae starts looking into mirrors to continue her artistic development and tapping her protean muse, I certainly look forward to hearing the results. While I’m already looking forward to that next outing and more of her timeless songs, I’m very happy to have Sea Dream to keep me company right now… you will, too.
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Stu O’Connor is an educator, musician, and poet who has spent his life dedicated to the power of the word, the necessity of precision in language, and the human need for story as a method of transmitting culture, ideas, and understanding. He has been published in The Mad Poets Review, New Voices in American Poetry, and the Poetry Ink 20 th Anniversary Anthology. He has an undergraduate degree from West Chester University, a Master’s degree from Gratz College, and teaches English in the West Chester Area School District. He has held an Advisory Board seat for West Chester University’s Writing Zones program and currently is an Advisory Board member for The Mad Poets Society, one of the Philadelphia Region’s largest poetry groups. He performs music on a regular basis with two bands and hosts a poetry series in West Chester called ”Living on Luck” for The Mad Poets Society.