Skittish’s Savannah Sessions is an outgrowth of Jeff Noller relocating from Minnesota’s Twin Cities area to Savannah, Georgia in 2018. He decided to step back from an active musical career in favor of studying film sound, but eleven years writing and recording several albums under the Skittish banner and the emergence of COVID-19 prodded Noller to begin composing songs once again for a possible collection. The resulting ten songs, despite a couple of near misses, are among the best he has offered the music buying public. The seventh release from Skittish stands up well against the previous six and shows there’s a lot of creative life left in Jeff Noller’s songwriting
The first full-throated track on the album is “The Hole”. It follows a brief acoustic opener that sets the stage for the next nine tracks, but “The Hole” is the first wide-lens expression of Noller’s musical creativity and benefits from the presence of two female backing singers. It’s a folk influenced track, but percolates with the electricity of rock music. The upbeat tempo keeps listeners engaged throughout and another key fact emerges from the recording – despite Jeff Noller’s primacy, Skittish plays as a band instead of a glorified solo vehicle. He has an obvious knack for choosing the right supporting musicians. They dial into Noller’s aesthetic and play without any agenda or ego. They are here to support the song rather than snag a sizable portion of the spotlight.
“Car Crash Companion” will be a favorite for many listeners thanks to its onrush of musical power, never pushing too hard on anyone hearing the song, and Noller’s singing will squash any doubt that his voice can exert considerable rock muscle. The furious trajectory of the cut is another reason that the song stands out on an otherwise excellent collection. It is another track showing how there’s little to no interest from a songwriting or musical point of view for pursuing spotlight instrumental moments for individual players. Eric Holmes’ fiddle during the second half of “Before the Devil Knows” takes the track in a much different direction than it begins. The song starts off as a hushed acoustic blues before it begins transforming. Holmes doesn’t clutch onto a variety of clichéd fiddle runs like many similar players might and, instead, brings a structured yet impassioned musical attack with his instrument.
“Hello Deadly” is another of the album’s high points. The percussion nails a swinging groove that sounds natural throughout the entire song and Brianna Tagg’s vocals are another key factor for making this song work. “Over Thirty” and “Parallel Life” are a weak spot in the album’s running order, but they never land with the sort of resounding thud that mars the album in a serious way. Jeff Noller ends this new Skittish album with the track “Beautiful in Black”, a vocal showcase that may seem like an improbable end to the album, but nonetheless works spectacularly well. There’s little musical accompaniment attached to this track. Skittish’s Savannah Sessions doesn’t connect on every level, but it is a very personal and rewarding listening experience.
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