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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1704

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Jesse Terry: Empty Seat on a Plane
by George Graham

(Independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 11/7/2012)

There are all kinds of variations on the singer-songwriter genre -- with performers spanning a wide range of stylistic influences, with some playing less-conventional instruments in an effort to break a little ground in a musical style for which there are thousands of participants.

But for all the eclecticism from some of the artists we have spotlighted in this series, sometimes a folkie with an acoustic guitar can make some appealing and memorable music, doing it with an admirable degree of creativity that can result in a worthwhile recording offering something notable, even with the profusion of vocalist-composers. This week we have a good example. It's the new recording by singer-songwriter Jesse Terry, and his CD is called Empty Seat on a Plane.

Jesse Terry's biography refers obliquely to a turbulent childhood. His commitment to music was such that he enrolled in the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he majored in songwriting and performance. Soon after graduation, he landed a job as a staff songwriter for a publishing house in Nashville, becoming part of the music scene there. His songs began to attract attention, but he also sought to perform them himself . He entered various songwriting competitions and won several awards, including grand prize in the John Lennon songwriting contest. Tracks from his debut album were used in some commercial television shows.

Jesse Terry is currently living in New York, but recorded his second album Empty Seat on a Plane back in Nashville with producer Neilson Hubbard, who has worked with other notable singer-songwriters such as Glen Phillips of the Toad the Wet Sprocket band, Amy Speace, and Kim Richey. Hubbard's tasteful production, along with Terry's appealing songs and airy high tenor voice, make for a very attractive and pleasing sound.

Previously, Terry had decided to take the plunge and launch a career as an itinerant performer, booking and managing himself, which he found daunting at first. In fact that experience has helped to shape a couple of the songs on his new album, as does some of his travels. He says he fell in love with New Zealand, so at least two of the songs make reference to the Pacific region, as does some time he spent out in the American West.

Interestingly, one can deduce from the CD booklet notes that he is in a happy relationship, so there are not many traditional love songs or songs about love lost. Instead, there are several tracks that essentially make the case for optimism.

The instrumentation on the CD is generally sparse, with acoustic sound being dominant, but when the music calls for it, there are some more supplemental players, including a string section.

The CD opens with its title track Empty Seat on a Plane. It typifies the appealing sound of the album. It's somewhat atmospheric to go with the impressionistic lyrics, which make reference to traveling to New Zealand's capital. <<>>

One of the songs that more or less encourages optimism is called Let the Blues Skies Go to Your Head. The context is a relationship, but its message is to look on the bright side. <<>>

A piece called Grace on a Train is appealing and lyrically clever. It's unclear whether the "grace" is a woman by that name or the personal quality. <<>>

A trip to the west and seeing the aftermath of the large wildfires there served as the inspiration for the song called Bitterroot Valley, which has a bit more of a roots-sound. <<>>

The West also inspired the song Coyotes, about spending the night listening to the howl of the animals. <<>>

It's off to the Pacific as a setting for the song Blue Touches Blue about sailing in the ocean. It's got an appealing musical setting that has the potential to enter the realm of pop music. <<>>

One of the more lyrically oblique but interesting tracks is Tightrope, an attractive waltz with the tightrope serving as a metaphor in a love song. <<>>

Terry's role an itinerant performer in a good relationship forms the basis for Scenic Route. It's about missing one's significant other who can't go out on the road with the rambling musician. <<>>

Jesse Terry's new second CD Empty Seat on a Plane is just what a good singer-songwriter album should be. Intelligent, articulate and often poetic songs in a folk-influenced acoustic-guitar based setting by a performer with an appealing vocal style. The very tasteful production adds to the music without significantly calling attention to itself. It's also a major contributor to this album's artistic success. It's an all-around likable album from an artist who writes about his experiences, but does so in a way that can reach wide audiences.

Our grade for sound quality is an A-minus. The CD was very well-recorded with nice clean sound on all the instrumentation, and Terry's vocals captured with a warm, intimate sound. We'll deduct the usual points for the use of volume compression in the mastering sacrificing some of the dynamics of the music for jacked up loudness.

There's certainly no shortage of acoustic-guitar-wielding folkies on the scene. Sometimes, what sets them apart is their sonic eclecticism, and sometimes it's just excelling in the fundamentals. Jesse Terry on his new album serves up a very high-quality recording in the classic folkie form.

(c) Copyright 20012 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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