Jaime Wyatt: Felony Blues
Forty Below Records – 30 June 2017
When Los Angeles-based Jamie Wyatt sings of prison in her sweet yet smokey tones, this isn’t a case of some armchair outlaw sitting down in the home comforts of their writing den and imagining what it might be like to be behind bars. She’s done time and has the record to prove it.
Landing her first record deal when she was just 17, she moved to San Francisco and commuted to LA to record. That turned sour, as did her second deal, eventually sending her into depression and drug addiction. She winded up robbing her dealer and spending eight months in jail before taking a plea bargain for three years probation and six months residential treatment.
Clean and free again, she refocused on her love of country and, in particular, the music of Cash and Haggard with whose clashes with the law and substance abuse she could well relate. Eventually, after touring the West Coast with a variety of folk and country acts, a suggestion from songwriter John Durrill and the gift of a studio session with producer Mike Clink led to a dreamy recording of the former’s Haggard hit Misery and Gin on which it serves as the album closer. The remainder of the album was recorded inbetween touring at bass player Drew Allsbrook’s studio in Van Nuys. The musicians include John Schreffler Jr and Ted Russell Kamp from Shooter Jennings’ band, Punch Brothers’ Gabe Witcher on fiddle and Ryan Adams’ touring drummer Freddy Bokkenhauser.
Straddling the Bakersfield rather than the Nashville side of the country fence, two songs nod to her prison experiences. Midtempo swagger Stone Hotel tells of how she got busted for strong-armed robbery when she broke into her dealer’s house and her subsequent courthouse appearance and conviction. The fiddle driven Wasco recalls a cellmate at the LA County Jail who ended up marrying the prisoner to whom she was writing, but had never met, at Wasco Prison.
While it may not specifically refer to doing time, From Outer Space, reworked as a 2-step from a previous EP, deals with disconnection from people, particularly in terms of sustaining a relationship as a touring musician, here captured through the feelings of an adrift astronaut rather than an inmate. Pedal steel steps up to the plate for the reflective bittersweet Giving Back The Best Of Me, a fingerpicked number co-penned with Matthew Szlachetka that duly entails familiar country staples a broken down car and a bottle of bourbon in the lyrics.
Uptempo, upbeat album opener Wishing Well is a solid introduction to her Bakersfield –inspired sound and, just to give an idea about the sort of circles in which she’s already moving, the remaining track, the equally upbeat Your Loving Saves Me, sees her duetting with fellow LA country singer-songwriter Sam Outlaw. Sam’s massive UK following bodes well for some crossover attention. It’s an arresting debut.