First Impressions: Jersey Girl by Jessie Baylin

You can take the girl out of Jersey, but can you take Jersey out of the girl? The answer, of course, is the same no matter where one hails from (or what gender one may be). Our roots are our roots no matter how much we may wish to rip ‘em out of the ground. In Jessie Baylin’s case that meant growing up in northern New Jersey, where she was no doubt exposed to a wide array of pop and rock thanks not just to the New York radio stations picked up on the FM radio band, but—perhaps more importantly—the music piped into the family restaurant where she bused tables. She left home for the City of Angels at age 18, but—try as she might—home never left her.

Jersey Girl, the album, is an amalgamation of sounds and styles, bridging ‘60s pop and ‘70s rock, and a little ‘80s New Wave thrown in for good measure, with ample amounts of echo enveloping Baylin’s vocals. It’s an extension of the style she first created with Richard Swift on Little Spark, one of my favorite albums from 2012, and Dark Place, a solid outing in 2015, but with different hues mixed into the palette due to different work partners. (Swift passed away in 2018; she co-wrote most of these songs with Daniel Tashian.) In a way, her sound now is more New York and less Laurel Canyon, though one still discerns Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty influences underpinning some tracks. It’s simultaneously in-your-face and laidback, in other words, with a few melodies conjuring—at least to my ears—those of Paul McCartney and his erstwhile partner, John Lennon, during their post-Beatles heydays.

The 11-track, 36-minute set opens with the gentle “Night Flower,” which paints a moving portrait of someone in a rush not for love, but life. The uptempo “That’s the Way” is next; if not for the liner notes, one would be forgiven for mistaking it for a long-lost Goffin-King track—it’s poppy and soulful at the same time. On Twitter, she explained that “Cloud Nine” is “about two people dreaming of letting it all go and submitting to a pleasurable life where the currency of love sets them free”; it conjures Lennon at his utopian best.

“Time Is a Healer” is a phenomenal track that sounds lifted lock, stock and barrel from Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 radio program from almost any week in the late 1970s or early ‘80s, yet there’s more to it than a rockin’ beat, platform shoes and layered hair. In a Consequence of Sound breakdown, she explained, “This song is about time taking care of us on the journey to healing and how It softens the sharp edges. This track is less about a person and more about me mending my relationship with life.” Here she is performing it on The Late Late Show With James Corden (and, yes, those are the Watson Twins providing backup vocals):

The melodically plush “Velvet Touch” ruffles nostalgic yearning with a bittersweet reminiscence. The stirring “Strange Diamonds” shares a portrait of someone with “stars in your eyes/they looked like dreams colliding.” “Desire” features one of those McCartney-like melodies and, along with “Strange Diamonds,” would be as at-home on an Elizabeth & the Catapult album as here. “Slowest Bullet” floats in and out to a nice effect, before “Catch Fire” celebrates how, when they work, relationships bring something to life in the other that was previously missing. The penultimate track, “Song for a Young Man,” is one part spoken-word poem and one part song. I find it hypnotic.

The album ends with the title track, which paints a vivid word-picture about “Jersey girls from Jersey towns with Jersey dreams” with few lyrics. It’s moody and atmospheric, tough but not stoic, with the “la la la la” ending the icing on the cake.

When the teaser tracks were released in the run-up to Jersey Girl’s release, I sensed that it would fast become one of my favorites of the year. It’s achieved that in spades. Her songs are excursions into the existential side of life, but framed in ways that make them accessible to all. They resonate in both the head and heart, with the lyrics and melodies lingering long after the song cycle comes to a close. Definitely give it a go. It’s a great album.

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