Michael Holcomb

Sophomore, Economics and Mathematics major

Source: pitchfork.com
Source: pitchfork.com

It is tempting to categorize Jessica Pratt as a clichéd successor of so many giants of folk music who came before her. At first listen, it becomes obvious that she pulls from the fertile, buzzing tradition of folk from the generation of musical poets and dreamers of the late ‘60s and ‘70s (Bob Dylan, Vashti Bunyan, and Joan Baez come to mind, among others). But on closer listen, and leaving behind pre-conceived ideas, her music goes further than mere emulation. In her own soft way, Pratt adds a touch of nuance to a field known for its fickle shifts between freewheeling idealism and wallowing unhappiness.

A subdued melancholy seems to pervade the record, but not in a negative way. Pratt isn’t miserable, just introspective and resigned about the way things are. On the standout single “Back Baby,” she teeters between lamentation and reproach as she reminds her former lover “if you could play it in reverse then you’d find / that you’d better reconsider all the love you took and then cast aside.” The song’s refrain—“Sometimes I pray for the rain”—reminds us of the puzzling beauty of a tumultuous love as Pratt ponders what would happen if she could run time backward. But alas, the resignation: “you can’t go back, baby.”

The most salient aspect of her music is Pratt’s distinctly drawn and twangy voice. One imagines she sings with milk and honey in the back of her throat. Often, she strips down the music to its most basic elements, then fleshes out those elements to make sure they are thick and cushioned enough to support her warm sound. Her plucky guitar playing is virtually impeccable as she deftly demonstrates the resonant power of her instrument, most strikingly on “Greycedes.” Surrounding these elements, the record is sonorous and booming in a quiet way. The experience feels like sitting in the plushest sofa in a sparse brick warehouse. Vocal harmony is a layer that Pratt exploits beautifully, notably on “I’ve Got a Feeling.” Her breathy vocals evoke a shadowy, dream-like, fleeting experience. In between it all, the ever-present hiss of the recordings (a product of her 4-track home-recording method) evokes the fuzzy way the mind recalls episodes from our lives, whether quietly formative or strikingly transformative.

Lyrically, the album is faithful to the rich tradition of folk music as poetry and storytelling. “People’s faces blend together like a watercolor you can’t remember in time,” Pratt observes in the opening line of “Game That I Play.” In one line, she captures the feeling of pushing against the tide of time and the waves of memory that swirl in our minds as we move to make sense of our life’s narrative. Still, for all her poetry and shadowiness, Pratt is often surprisingly direct. “I try to believe in you somehow, but every time I do I get down and out,” she croons regretfully as she confronts her love gone awry on the final track, appropriately titled “On Your Own Love Again.” Throughout the album, her lyrics are simultaneously straightforward and poetic. This is the power of fully-realized folk music—to be both emotionally incisive and appeal to an intuitive sense of the way the world (and the heart) works.

Pratt conveys a set of humming tunes and delicate melodies supported by an atmosphere that lingers on beyond the first listen. The mind grabs onto the melodies, but with them recalls the swirling accompaniment of emotions. Isn’t that how the mind always works? In her own quiet way, Pratt has struck upon something here. After listening to this record, you can’t help but feel a step closer to understanding the playful secrets of life.