The third album from Troy singer/songwriter Jacob Robert Stephens plays like his first two – it’s got pretty melodies, well-crafted stories and bang-up musicianship. The minstrel gets ample help from a laundry list of Montana musicians: Roger Moquin, drums and percussion; Gibson Hartwell, pedal steel; David Wilbert, bass; Ryan Maynes, piano and accordion; and horn players Naomi Siegel, trombone, and Brandon Ensley, trumpet.
Other contributors are Amelia Thornton, fiddle, vocals, and harmony; Matt Cornette, banjo; and Jara Ward and Vanessa Wanner, harmony. Stephens plays a ton of instruments – guitars, mandolin, ukulele, and percussion; he also doubles his voice on harmonies.
His 10 tunes in the Americana vein are poetic and thoughtful, and each has interludes of fine pickin’. The title tune comes first; it’s got a folk-country sound mixed with an exotic Hawaiian feel. He sings “oh-oh-woa-oh, ah-h-h,” then plays a fluid guitar riff, while the pedal steel slides in. All the while, a samba beat simmers in the background.
There’s forlorn ambience to “All Is Fair in Love.” It lopes along in a minor key as murder takes center-stage. A snippet of accordion adds layering, as does Thornton’s vocal harmony. Stephens’s mando and guitar breaks push the song forward, with cool drums too. I like this ‘un!
“Lonesome I Suppose” is a duet in which Stephens and Thornton mesh their vocal inflections perfectly. Lovers realize they’ve grown apart and express regret in their own minds, as if sharing a silent conversation. The beat pulsates, as long sustained vocal notes suddenly hurry to match tumbled-out words. Near the end there’s a pause; then they sing in falsetto on the words “alone” and “blue,” making them sound like a soft howl. It’s an abrupt ending, and very moving.
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– Mariss McTucker