Billy Jeter’s new album Shine Eye Landing is, after the last year plus of a global pandemic, a blast of fresh air. Even its most serious moments are redemptive — the fact they exist in any form is a rebuke against whatever darkness they document. Jeter’s experienced artistic hand has shaped each of the album’s ten songs with clear attention to detail while still allowing them to “breathe”. This is a very calm album, even in its most tumultuous moments. Harder edges, when they are present, only go so far and never risk abrasiveness. Jeter’s roots are deep in blues and country music, but other offshoots are present as well. His Arkansas upbringing weaves this music into his DNA, without question, but astute listeners will hear other far-flung forebearers present in Jeter’s music and lyrics.
He’s come far enough, however, that you can’t dare label him a lesser light or imitator. Tracks such as “Orion”, among others, assure us of that. The emphatic lead guitar touches built into the composition are crucial for its success and drumming is an across the board strength on Shine Eye Landing, but the vocals are what sells these songs in the end. Jeter calls upon a varied approach to his phrasing many of his peers and contemporaries cannot muster. I am sure, having never seen Jeter perform live, he is capable of spinning songs in a different way with each new performance. It is an unique and considerable skill.
“Shine Eye Landing” is one of the collection’s most thoughtful moments. He wisely contains the instrumentation of the song, working with a few essential ingredients, but the banjo and violin lead the way. The latter has an unexpectedly elegiac mood, but the inherent brightness of the former counters with its irrepressible bounce. It is one of Jeter’s more emotive vocals and brimming with suggestions of the autobiographical; it sounds lived rather than performed. “That’s Just the Way We Roll” is, far and away, the most entertaining raise the roof number present on Shine Eye Landing. It’s a winking and rambunctious musical ride but runs a little longer than necessary.
You hear a decidedly folkier sound during “Sins of Me”. The instrumental strands defining the album so far are still strong, yes, but he’s amped up the acoustic guitar presence. His wont for penning a punchy chorus gives the album unexpected mainstream appeal without sacrificing musical or lyrical quality. As for the words, “Highwater Blues” is the unquestioned high point. It is a fully realized lyrical vision bursting with dazzling imagery and propelled by Jeter’s confident vocal.
“Spider Lilly” is another moment many will love. It’s arguably the clearest sign of Jeter’s love for country music on Shine Eye Landing thanks to its tempo, vocal style, and instrumental choices. A single listen, however, makes it obvious Jeter has a genuine feel for the genre and it never sounds false. Hearing this release is a cleansing experience. Billy Jeter’s Shine Eye Landing brushes aside any ideas of these traditional notions sounding passé and worms its way deep into your subconscious.