Once again, Jess Novak transforms her personal issues into a searching, graceful and incredibly moving album. But the complexity of her emotion and the nuanced production make this her most ambitious work till date.
You could say ‘A thousand Lives’, backed up with the full weight of her expressive vocals backed by a wonderfully talented band, made this Syracruse based band one of the most admired today. They play more than 250 dates annually and with each show, their showmanship and music just keep getting better. Jess Novak (violin, guitar, vocals, piano, percussion, looping) works with Byron Cage on drums, Anthony Saturno on electric guitar, Jabare Mckinstry on bass and Gavin George on drums to create a powerhouse sound, often with Nick Fields on trumpet.
In this album, she’s telling a more unexpected story about love. What it means to go through that pain, hoping for an apology and to eventually try to love again. The task necessitated a more nuanced writing style and looser structure to some of the songs. Along with some very beautiful guitar solos, this resulted in Jess Novak Band’s most ambitious album to date.
The album starts off with ‘Shade’ that has this lovely jazz infusion with Novak’s voice shimmering through. The lyrics are meaningful and vivid with a wonderful hook that makes you want to air drum.
The ‘Key’ on the other hand has a very funky intro that reminds you of clubs in the 80s. Her vocals are now addicting and the subtle trumpet is just an amazing addition that I simply cannot get over! ‘Anchor’ is a little slower, and a lot more emotional. This album is a rollercoaster of emotions; from peppy songs to this slow gem. She talks about letting go and not being an anchor. A wonderful analogy from Novak.
It seems as if ‘Anchor’ was just the beginning and with ‘Like a Record’ the tempo slightly picks up. It still carries the melancholic vibe of ‘Anchor’. The guitar work on this track is just unbelievable with a mind-blowing solo that is purely psychedelic mayhem. Right after the solo, Novak picks up the pace with her vocals. This makes this track a power house and my personal favorite on this album. Again, the trumpets were a wonderful touch perfectly going with the bass.
‘Apologies’ goes back to the same emotion as ‘Anchor’, with more trumpet this time and some nice piano and violin background. It has a very nice hook that goes perfectly with the guitar riffs and is accentuated by the electric guitar and chorus. ‘A thousand lives’ has a Celtic beginning, almost something out of a medieval ballad. The violin plays an important role in this track(placed in the center with the vocals), with guitars playing differently on the left and right giving an interesting experimental stereo effect.
The ‘Devil’s Walk’ is another full U-turn from the previous few tracks and starts off like a classic rock record with screaming guitars. It has interesting instrumentals that become the fulcrum of the track while the vocals just perfectly in sync with it all. Novak’s ability as a singer is truly exceptional and you can see it over the course of this album.
‘Shade’ is the last track on the album and is an acoustic version. It starts off with no instruments and just the vocals. The space adds more impact to the emotion in the singer’s voice. Slow piano riffs signal the start of the song and catalyze the overall emotion of the song. I must say, the piano is simply captivating and Novak does a brilliant job on this as well. It gives us listeners an insight into Novak’s broad abilities as a musician and also a small peek into her heart with this song.
Life is messy and not always built for three-minute songs with perfect hooks. The Jesse Novak Band was always more complicated than that, and now they have an album that ups the stakes and nuance of their artistry. Not just in telling a story over the course of 8 songs, or by making a record that interacts with more modern musical ideas, or in how they’re using her voice with newfound multitudes, but by being bold enough to share it all so vulnerably, with the entire world listening.