Jaime Wyatt is typically filed under “outlaw country”, which evokes the cliched images of yowlers and revelers stomping their boots in some dive. Yet her new album, Neon Cross, doesn’t start out sounding like outlaw country at all. “Sweet Mess” begins with just sparse piano and Wyatt’s voice, sounding like the matriarchs of Fleetwood Mac’s peak years kicked the boys out of the room to craft a melancholy ballad that includes the narrator asking a past lover to “leave me lonely”. Wyatt pulls this move by design though. She wanted to weed out the listeners not ready for a contemplative look into heartbreak and redemption.
“Consider this album an appointment to feel and get in touch with your own emotions,” she told PopMatters earlier this year. After “Sweet Mess”, Wyatt gets back to the rough ramble of outlaw country, but the message is clear: This album is deeper than a label can offer. Since her last release, 2017’s Felony Blues Wyatt has lost her father, struggled with addiction, come out as a gay woman, and went through a divorce. Neon Cross is Wyatt’s way of getting in touch with all these emotions she’s been going through, but more specifically, it’s about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.
To begin, The country Jaime Wyatt produces is a far cry from the country you will hear on any radio outside the far left of the dial. And this “real” country she makes is sometimes just a little more than obsessed with authenticity. Wyatt needs not to worry about being called inauthentic, as personally and musically, she has the credentials to push away any such cursory concerns. She’s been through the ringer. After losing a record deal in her teens, Wyatt leaned into the hard-living lifestyle for years, climaxing in a felony after she robbed her dealer. She spent eight months in prison and documented all of it on her debut EP Felony Blues.
Musically, Neon Cross, her debut LP, is mostly a pleasantly rattling bucket of twang. Stated simply, it’s a far cry from radio country. After “Sweet Mess”, we get the title track, “Neon Cross”, with its propulsive shuffling beat backed by steel guitar and it’s cry of “the evening speaks my language”. It checks all the boxes for raw dive bar country. “Goodbye Queen” tells the story of a fly-by-night relationship while sounding as close to ’90s country-pop as Wyatt will allow herself. Later, “Rattlesnake Girl” incorporates fuzz bass reminiscent of Grady Martin’s gloriously fuzzed-out solo on the 1961 “Don’t Worry” single by Marty Robbins. Basically, Wyatt touches base with many different iterations of country, both recent and antique, and she does so with finesse and reverence.
It can be a tough time out there, and Wyatt is working it all out throughout Neon Cross. The title of the final track is “Demon Tied to a Chair in My Brain”, and you don’t need much more than that title to understand what Wyatt is trying to express here. We all have demons. Just be sure to keep them tied down as long as you can, maybe forever, but don’t count on it, so keep your head up.