On Courtney Jaye’s latest album, she sings country rock rooted in the classic laidback California vibe of the 1970s. There’s something cottony soft in her vocals, however emotional her songs may become. She knows that feelings are just like drops of summer rain and understands memories are just the weather. The whole vibe is cool, polished, and serene — like the ocean view from a secure balcony.
But Jaye is no Golden State girl. She’s a geographical mutt who’s lived everywhere. But she has learned that Laurel Canyon stood for more than just a location. Musically, it was the spot where sensitive souls could craft tunes about relationships into morality tales with a pop sensibility. Sincerity counted. Honesty was important. Nature was a virtue. The most important thing was capturing the spirit of the sun and blue sky in terms of an optimism about who one was and where one was headed. Sure, an artist like Joni Mitchell could point out the shadows, but Mitchell always ended up leading into the light. The same is true of Jaye. Love can go bad, or never even sprout, yet somehow that is all right. Tomorrow will be better.
Jaye may not be the lyricist Mitchell was. There are times here when rhymes are overwrought, her images clichéd, and her instrumental backing too prosaic. But she is a talented artist who creates marvelously well-honed hooks and catchy melodies. Love and Forgiveness works conceptually because Jaye is able to ignore the words and capture the larger dynamics. Consider “Say oh Say” with the banal verse “Why you want to sell it down / It’s not a magazine / Distill it into something pure / In something that you mean.” Whatever she’s talking about becomes a mishmash of personal references that expresses nothing. But that is the point of the song. Jaye celebrates just being able to shout about and let it out just for the sake of self-expression. Breaking the silence matters more than what one says. “Here comes the runaround,” she continues. She recognizes that she has no wisdom to offer.
And who really does, when it comes to love and human relationships? Jaye values the intrinsic artistry of castles in the air. Her songs burst like soap bubbles upon close examination. I mean, I appreciate a beautiful woman friend sitting next to me declaring her love and willingness to do anything for me as much as the next person, but I don’t believe Jaye really means it. Yet “Ask Me Too” works as an expression of longing. Who doesn’t imagine such scenarios, which have been a staple of pop music since its beginnings?
And the more thoughtful songs, such as the appropriately titled “I Thought About It”, are still cut out of the same cloth. Lines like “With love there’s no keeping score” do not share any more depth than the flat-out emotional tunes. But they also share the same lovely sentimentality in attractive packaging. The song grabs you viscerally. The listener is charmed by Jaye’s ability to create a zeitgeist where it is all about two people trying to make it in a beautiful world where we just have to be open and share with each other on the deepest levels. The heart is a wondrous thing. The magic that happens between two people is delightfully mysterious. Jaye makes music that captures these mundane truths and reveals what is precious about them.