Amy McCarley: Jet Engines

AmyMcCarley_JetEnginesWant, desire and a dose of pragmatic pessimism

It’s little surprise that singer-songwriter Amy McCarley developed an early affection for co-producer Kenny Vaughan’s work with Lucinda Williams. She writes from a similar emotional place as Williams, and her vocals evidence the same sort of moaning world-weariness. She’s at once resigned to and responsible for the outcomes of her decisions, whether it’s a painful morning-after or even more painful personal realization. But even with a history filled with signposts, her tiptoeing gives way to wading and headlong dives, and she often finds herself tangled in others’ webs of emotion and deceit.

McCarley explores the tension between the ties that bind and an urge to escape. She sings of running towards new experience in “Head Out of Town,” but subtly undermines her direction with a revelation in the last verse. She weighs the ache of losing against the emptiness of not playing, and on “Won’t Last Forever” she proves herself a pragmatic pessimist who enjoys the fruits of relationships before their inevitable rot. Like Williams, there’s desire and want in McCarley’s songs, but also a feisty thread of individuality; it’s the relief of the latter against the former that adds personal notes to themes that ring with universal appeal.

Producers Vaughan and George Bradfute draw out McCarley’s varied moods with mixtures of electric and acoustic guitars, bass and drums, ranging from rainy day introspection to upbeat Saturday night carousing. McCarley feeds off the collaboration, setting her vocals deeply into the pocket and letting the music give her lyrics a sympathetic frame. The twangy “Turn the Radio On” recalls the music of Albert Brumley’s gospel classic “Turn Your Radio On,” though its call-to-loving is on a different spiritual plane, and the album’s title track has a reggae undertow in its rhythm. McCarley’s self-titled debut showed that she had the songwriting goods, and with the help of Vaughan and Bradfute she’s found a new level of expression in the studio. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

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