There’s no question vocalist, musician, and songwriter Jesse Lynn Madera set the bar high for herself. The seven songs on her full-length studio album debut Fortunes are constructed with her piano playing at the center of each track and, despite her ability to blend various genres, often come across as high-flown pop with orchestral leanings. She hails from a family of self-taught musicians and that natural facility for the art is apparent from the first. Fortunes opens with “Dante”, a lush musical marriage between Stevie Blacke’s string arrangement and some of Madera’s finest piano work. There are several emotions sparking to life in its words – defiance, despair, and even devotion, among others, raise their heads to be counted. It has a tight focus that Madera sustains throughout the entirety of Fortunes.
“Sentimental” is one of two duets included on the album. Claire McKeown’s vocal arrangements are one of the under the radar strengths of the album and the way Madera and Australian vocalist Joel Taylor work off each other illustrates those strength. She eschews string arrangements with this track and relies, instead, on vocals to carry the day and a traditional band configuration led by her piano playing. The lyric is a bit simpler than some of the other tracks on this release, but nonetheless excellent.
“7 2 H V N” touches on some familiar themes Madera develops over the course of Fortunes. There’s a lot of retrospection and looking back rife throughout these songs and her backward gaze catches a time when she is discovering physical love for the first time. It has a much more playful edge than many of the album’s other songs. “Funny Man” is close to a pure solo performance as it features only Madera, her piano work, and Ian Hutchinson’s upright bass playing. The heartache lurking behind many of the lines benefits from Madera’s talent for understatement.
Fortunes’ second duet arrives with “You, With the Sullen Eyes” as she pairs up with musician/actor John Hawkes, notable for his contributions to the HBO series Deadwood among other roles. Hawkes’ voice could scarcely be any different from Madera’s but they work well together. The lyric is structured as a dialogue between two voices and Madera deserves fulsome praise for handling it with great artistry as opposed to adopting a ham-fisted approach to building the track.
APPLE MUSIC: https://music.apple.com/us/album/fortunes/1508438786
The album concludes with “Fortunes”, its title track, and ending the release with a substantive lyrical and musical statement puts an emphatic exclamation point on all that has come before. Her voice, once again, proves capable of enchanting you with little effort and she lives out the lyric for listeners in convincing fashion. To call Madera promising is a bit of understatement. She is a fully formed talent at a relatively young age, impressive in and of itself, but I finished listening to this collection certain she has only started scratching the surface of her considerable talents. I expect future releases will see her talents expanding exponentially and delving deeper than ever before into the mysteries of our lives and hearts. `
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