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“Something You Didn’t Count On” by Jaelee Roberts

Something You Didn’t Count On has something for everyone who loves bluegrass, country, blues, and even pop. If you don’t hear pop inflections, faint but there, you aren’t listening. Jaelee Roberts has co-written and picked songs for a debut that feels like she’s prepped for from birth until this moment. First albums, like first novels, are often repositories for every formative experience shaping its creator until then.

She’s in love with love – this is certain. It doesn’t mean that the dozen songs included on Something You Didn’t Count On are a sloppy, sentimental listening experience. The title song introduces listeners to the essential template for a Jaelee Roberts song that she rarely deviates from over the course of the next eleven songs, but it’s an appealing sound.

Banjo, guitar, and fiddle are the most important pieces counterpointing Jaelee’s vocal. The latter, Jimmy Mattingly’s fiddle, is especially key and often serves as Roberts’ de-facto duet partner. He doesn’t attempt to dominate a single performance. Mandolin, harmony, and melody sparkle during “Think Again”, the album’s second song, and it gives the audience a low-key contrast to the comparatively assertive opener. Interplay is all-important to these performances – these are musicians listening closely to one another and it results in a dream-like ambiance durable enough to revisit.

“Sad Songs” would be one hell of a straight classic country song. It also works as a rocker, a pop song, and as we hear it here, a well-played bluegrass number with a deceptively simple touch. Master musicians are responsible for songs such as this. The chorus for this song is among the album’s best. “The Best of Me” is another of Something You Didn’t Count On’s songs that will likely enjoy the across-the-board appeal and the musicianship is as much the reason why as the singing.

The easy amble of the heartache driving “Lie to Me” and the way Jimmy Mattingly’s fiddle often answers the vocal makes this one of the album’s best tracks. It peaks with the gorgeous and understated vocal harmonies during the chorus. Memorable choruses are an underrated factor in this album’s success and another of its best refrain’s hits with the rousing “You Can’t Stop Me from Staying”. It’s a fine song at any tempo, however, as it’s impossible to not appreciate the intelligence and deft wit underlying the writing.

There’s a darker tone pervading “The Beginning Was the End”. Her songs, while rarely joyful from the first word to last, rarely go in for this sort of fatalism set to music, but it isn’t overwrought. She is a good blues singer lacking histrionics. Hardcore country and bluegrass music fans will enjoy her rendition of the Gram Parsons’ classic “Luxury Liner” – it’s one of the album’s two covers and a far bolder choice than the first. Make no mistake, however – there are no meaningful weaknesses on this album. Some of the songs/performances are more worthwhile than others, that’s to be expected, but Jaelee Roberts’ Something You Didn’t Count On is a success by any reasonable measure. 

Mindy McCall



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