Delayed Plays: Earnest Voice by Jackie Minton

Last Monday, a Midsomer Murders episode turned into a mid-evening bore, with Diane nodding off and me almost doing the same. Then I remembered that folk-flavored singer-songwriter Calista Garcia, whose 2021 EP turned my ear, was slated to appear on something called The Songwriter Showcase on Instagram. As I soon discovered, it’s a weekly livestream that’s hosted and curated by Rory D’Lasnow, himself a talented singer-songwriter. Fellow up-and-comers Belle Shea and Jackie Minton joined Garcia on the guest list. 

If you haven’t heard of any of them, that’s okay. We live in an odd age for music, with loads of quality singer-songwriters and bands struggling to be heard amidst the Internet din. And yet when Minton launched into the title track of her 2021 full-length debut, The Earnest Voice, it was as if the world writ large fell quiet. I hesitate to use the word “angelic,” but that’s about the only adjective I can think of to describe her vocals, which swoop low one moment and then fly high the next. They’re a thing of beauty. And when she performed her new single, “For Giving,” time stopped. 

I plan to spotlight the single tomorrow alongside a few other recent finds. The album, on the other hand… how it slipped past my grasp last year is beyond me. It was funded the way many are these days, via Kickstarter, and self-released, and falls squarely into the folk-flavored singer-songwriter genre. The songs as a whole are earnest and self-reflective, accented by lyrics that speak to the human experience; on her website, her bio (accurately) describes her voice as “evocative of Joni Mitchell, Regina Spektor, and Madison Cunningham.” I’d add another to the mix: Marketa Irglova of The Swell Season, aka the woman singer alongside Glen Hansard in the movie Once.

The album opens with “Sleep Talking,” about wishing to break out of the rut she finds herself in, and the roles that anxiety and fear play with it. When her vocals rise, she reminds me of Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell. “Remind,” which finds her using her higher register throughout, is a thing of genteel beauty, while “Someone” is that and more, and shares a factoid many people forget: “Don’t go looking/Trying to find someone/To complete you/‘Cause you’re already done.” If I remember the livestream correctly, the title track was inspired by The Odyssey and Helen of Troy—which sits well with this old English major. “Miss You,” a duet with Andrew Ascough, brings to mind the aforementioned Swell Season; it was the first song Minton wrote after moving away from home in 2019. 

“In the Middle” finds her reacting to an exchanged glance with a boy by burying her head in a book, afraid to look up from the fear that he may no longer be there; she wishes to skip the beginning and start the story in the middle. “Fly” sports lustrous vocals that remind me not of any of those I’ve mentioned above, but Haylay Westenra’s stirring soprano. “Sower” is decidedly Joni-esque in nature, in part due to the “River”-like piano intro. As good as all that came before, however, nothing prepares one for “Made of Memories,” which she cowrote with Evan Sieling. It’s an absolute wonder, the kind of song that—in another era—would or could have topped the country charts. (FYI, in real life her brother doesn’t have a child.) 

“December Air” delves into the first blush of winter, when one realizes that—warm-weather vacation aside—there’s no escaping the cold. There’s also no escaping the end of the album, with concludes with “Carry You,” about getting lost and finding one’s self in the world. 

At its best, Earnest Voice is a sublime set that inoculates against pessimism. Part of that no doubt stems from how she integrates her Catholic faith into her songs. One need not share her beliefs to enjoy the music, however, just as one need not be Christian to enjoy the Byrds’ “Turn, Turn Turn,” which was adapted from the Book of Ecclesiastes by Pete Seeger. That said, a few songs do remind me—lyrically speaking—of offerings served up in my long-ago Introduction to Poetry Writing class, especially “Fly.” (That doesn’t negate her vocals, mind you.) Yet, as a whole, the album makes me yearn to hear what comes next.

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