[28 August 2011]
Remember when people used to criticize Gillian Welch as a poseur because she grew up in Los Angeles but sang American roots music with an affected Appalachian accent? Five albums later, nobody really cares. What matters is that Welch sings and plays great music. Rose of Jericho is singer/songwriter Brigitte DeMeyer’s fifth album. The sound is drenched in New Orleans style R&B missed with country blues and a whole lot of other folksy Southern ingredients that have nothing to do with her biography as the daughter of Belgian and German immigrants, who was raised in the Midwest and California. As in the case of Welch, so what? We are not determined by circumstance but by our imaginations. The dozen tasty self-penned tracks on DeMeyer’s latest release reveal she has a powerful and creative musical intelligence. She may not be authentic. She’s better than that.
Most notable is DeMeyer’s spicy vocal delivery. There seems to be a fiery mix going on in her throat on almost every word she sings as she swallows, swishes, and spits out her lyrics as if she’s some kind of metaphorical wine taster. Take the Crescent City style “Say Big Poppa” where her voice mimics the sax that plays behind her one minute, and the two trumpets the next, without ever losing the focus on the words themselves. DeMeyer can turn straight-forward lines about a craps game (“Come on seven you’ve been gone too long \ Send me way down Esplanade where I belong \ Roll ‘em once, roll ‘em twice \ Staring down them ol’ snake eyes \ They don’t hold that last street car ‘til dawn“) into a declaration of love and lust just by her inflections. The Big Poppa of the song may be the male equivalent of Lady Luck that a woman turns to in times of need during a game of chance, but just like those masculine tributes to Dame Fortune, the feeling is no less erotic and compelling.
Even when DeMeyer goes more country and holy, as in the fiddle based and gospel inflected “One Wish”, DeMeyer uses the sound of her voice to express her sacred desire in a way that that seems borne in the flesh. This makes the consecrated feelings about the Lord into something that comes out of living in the material world. Her faith comes off as desperate, in a good way, as if this is what makes her existence worthwhile. Without belief in a higher power, she could not bear the weight of the world.
DeMeyer is ably assisted here by some of the best Americana musicians including mandolin player Sam Bush, guitarist Will Kimbrough, vocalist Mike Farris and drummer Brady Blade (who co-produced the record with DeMeyer). As a result, the playing is always tight no matter the style. This allows the listener to concentrate on what DeMeyer sings about—and whether she’s crooning about mundane pleasures like shelling peas, sipping molasses, sheets snapping in the wind or the deeper joys of sexual love and religious ecstasy—DeMeyer’s songs have a solid foundation in the real world of the imagination. She makes you believe she’s conveying essential truths. And she does.