Every night in New York City, scores of young songwriters settle down behind a microphone in one of the city’s many bars, and sing self-penned songs and stories, usually getting ignored by the drinkers for their troubles.
Yet that rather demoralising experience is how luminaries such as Suzanne Vega, Ani DiFranco and Norah Jones made their name, and 26 year old Jamie Kristine Seerman, otherwise known as Jaymay, looks to be set to follow in their footsteps.
Currently the talk of New York’s ‘Anti-folk’ scene – the scene that spawned Adam Green and Regina Spektor of course – Jaymay has steadily built up her reputation over the last few years by constant gigging, self-made demos and iTunes popularity. A record deal with Heavenly followed, and now we have Autumn Fallin’.
Although not a concept album as such, all of the tracks on Autumn Fallin’ are linked by themes of relationships and New York City. Opening track Gray Or Blue describes the rush and thrill of the first flush of love, while the wistful You Are The Only One I Love closes the album like you’d look back on the end of a relationship – sad, poignant but with an undercurrent of hope.
Folky singer/songwriters have had a bit of a bad image over the last few years, but that’s no reason to ignore Jaymay. Closer to the edgier sound of Martha Wainwright, Tori Amos or the aforementioned Regina than the cosy blandness of Katie Melua and the like, Autumn Fallin’ contains some truly beautiful songs.
Gray Or Blue uses simple ingredients such as a lightly strummed acoustic, xylophone and Jaymay’s poetic lyrics to marvellous effect: “I can’t keep staring at your mouth without wondering how it tastes” and “I know the shape of your hands as I watch them when you talk” being just two of the lines that conjure up that initial infatuation.
There may not be anything revolutionary about Jaymay – it’s more in the sense of mood that she conveys. The songs here describe the relationship slowly disintegrating as the autumn months turn into winter, and there’s a mood of melancholy wistfulness that suits the songs quite perfectly.
Sea Green See Blue marries a hummed chorus to some subtle double bass, while the lovely Big Ben ruminates on both the state of her love life (“you told me to read, but I could never read your mind”) and on New York City itself. It’s soft, fragile and the ethereal backing vocals add a ghostly effect.
The centrepiece of the album though is the nine-minute You’d Rather Run – its epic quality recalls Bob Dylan or Neil Young, but the gentle waltz melody and poetic, sometimes vicious, verses conjure up none other than Leonard Cohen. Even more impressively, despite the song’s length it seems to fly by.
Although most tracks here are of the acoustic folk persuasion, she’s not afraid to experiment. Hard To Say is much more jazzy, and is reminiscent of Nellie McKay – the effect is a bit jarring (especially when she sings a trumpet solo and starts to scat), but it’s pleasing to see she’s willing to explore more than one genre.
Jaymay’s voice is warm and always attractive, although it’s only on Ill Willed Person (which also recalls Dylan) that she really seems to stretch her vocal chords. No matter though, for the songs are the thing here, and by the time the gorgeous You Are The Only One I Love ends – managing to be tear-jerkingly reflective and even getting away with employing children as backing vocals and not sounding cliched – you’ll be humming along without even realising it.
Autumn Fallin’ is a very impressive debut – indeed, in places it’s rather magical – and bodes at great things to come for Jaymay. If you’ve ever experienced love and heartache and this record fails to strike a chord with you, then check your pulse – you may well be dead.