Jillette Johnson: All I Ever See in You Is Me
All I Ever See in You Is Me bares Johnson’s emotional depths within sonic simplicity, as she taps into self-possession and self-doubt without overburdening her classic sensibilities with the melodramatic.
On her debut album Water in a Whale in 2013, Jillette Johnson produced a collection of piano pop anthems that rivaled Regina Spektor’s vocal power and Vanessa Carlton’s impeccable hooks. Everything sounded big, and every line was delivered at a theatrical register. Songs like “Torpedo” and “Flood the Ocean” soared with melodramatic lifts, resonating with Johnson’s potential for arena status. The album propelled Johnson to become a supporting act for the likes of Delta Rae and Mary Lambert, although their tours didn’t quite make the arena circuit.
Soon after, the Nashville-based singer songwriter left the busyness of the road and the bluster of concert venues for the romanticized, if also cliché, experience of living in a cabin in a woods. That indelibly shaped Johnson’s follow-up record, All I Ever See in You Is Me. Without the surfeit of modern day enticements, Johnson stripped down her musical approach, opting to write songs that required little sonic accompaniment, rather than the resounding swells of instruments on Water in a Whale. In her own words, All I Ever See in You Is Me is the album she “always wanted to make".
This minimalist approach was reinforced by Grammy award-winning producer Dave Cobb. Because Cobb’s recent work with Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton features scaled back instrumentation to highlight each artist’s songwriting roots, spirited vocal command, and lyrical creativity, it makes sense that Johnson returns to classic piano songwriting on All I Ever See in You Is Me. Recorded at the historic RCA Studio A in Nashville, the album bares Johnson’s emotional depths within sonic simplicity, as she taps into self-possession and self-doubt without overburdening her classic sensibilities with the melodramatic.
Opening song “Bunny” maps the sonic territory that the album inscribes as a whole, firmly planting the stakes of piano that Johnson’s stunning vocals soar around throughout. Lyrically, however, the song projects a much different world. Akin to Sturgill Simpson’s hallucinatory lyrics, Johnson populates her strange world with a “robot army” equipped with “supersonic guns”, as well as with “Madonnas” and “anacondas” -- not exactly the world you might expect to emerge from a solitary experience in the woods.
The following track, “Love Is Blind”, returns to the more familiar clime of train-tracks, which Johnson uses to represent self-possession in the face of an embittered past relationship. Embracing a Joni Mitchell-meets-Carole King swagger, the song revels in the interplay between its plasters of piano and sprees of guitar. The song’s climax is the closest the album gets to the more anthemic Water in a Whale, although it does so with a confident vintage feel.