You see, it’s cases like this where I really don’t like to give background information when I’m doing an “album review”. For those of you who read blogs like Spectrum Pulse, Saving Country Music or Country Exclusive, you’ve most likely already heard of Jaime Wyatt. Much like Nikki Lane who I covered this week as well, I’m late to the punch in covering this. Yes, Jaime Wyatt served time in prison for robbing her drug dealer before pursuing a career in country music. It’s weird – this has both a lot, and a little to do with the album.
Jaime’s latest project Felony Blues isn’t some concept album from her time in prison, but you can tell her past creeps up on her more than once here. The opening track “Wishing Well” is a symbolism of that darkness as Jaime asks for just a chance in life to get ahead rather than stay behind. As a pessimist who loves a good bass (with pedal steel) driven track, this track somehow manages to be both fun and dark at the same time. Don’t ask me what that means.
There’s also more direct tracks that call to that past such as “Wasco” or “Stone Hotel”, both of which come from different perspectives with their narrators (one’s in prison, one’s not). However, both speak of looking ahead to a new life unbound by shackles, and much like “Wishing Well”, there’s ounces of hope that creep in, and I’m a sucker for that type of material.
What I also like about this album is that it manages to harken back to the days of the Bakersfield sound without sounding dated. In fact, the production is one of the best parts about this album. It’s often got a ton of bite and (forgive me for using this word) texture, with the instrumentation packing a ton of punch where it needs to (I’ve already mentioned the wonders of “Wishing Well”). Aside from that, the melodies and hooks aren’t to be taken lightly either, as this is another area Jaime really excels at.
One track I wasn’t sure about at first was “From Outer Space”. The whole intertwining of outer space and love seemed strange at first, but upon re-listens I’m more drawn to it. Perhaps it’s because it’s different from your typical love song, and comes from the perspective that few country songs come from (or none, seriously what country songs mention outer space?). It’s got a very spacey feel to it (that sounded cliché didn’t it?). What I mean is that there’s a very airy, disconnected feel to it, but at the same time it’s supported by some fantastic fiddle work and a strong bass line.
One track however that I’m sure I’m not all that crazy about is “Your Loving Saves Me”, if only for feeling like that one track that doesn’t really belong here. It’s light, breezy, and fun, and that’s not bad. Heck, even the prison songs here feel more happy than anything else. Still though, there’s something off about it, and perhaps it’s because it’s a little too on the nose with its message as opposed to the other songs that are bolstered by stronger, more explorative writing.
To add one more point, there are times when artists choose to cover songs on their albums (well known songs mind you). Sometimes the results are magnificent, making you forget they’re even covers to begin with like a good chunk of Whitey Morgan’s Sonic Ranch from 2015. Here, Wyatt’s cover of “Misery and Gin” by Merle Haggard could also be slotted into that category. It’s arguably her best vocal performance here, and that’s coming from the perspective of the power of her voice as well as the emotive presence, since this definitely feels like a song Wyatt can personally connect to.
To bring up a comparison to Nikki Lane’s latest album once more, with Felony Blues you really do get a nice slice of grittier country music that, also makes you think if “outlaw country” was ever actually a sound, this would be included there. It’s short, and while I’ve always found it hard to grade shorter projects for what they are, this is an album that’s definitely great. I have to say it’s a grower of an album, not really quite grabbing you until you really sit and listen to everything that’s going on, because there’s some great lyricism here as well as some fantastic production work. Overall, this is a fantastic little project that really grows on you more and more with every listen.