REVIEW: Jake Winstrom — “Circles” (LP)
“Come to Texas She Said” cooks at a low simmer thanks to its percussive guitar and drumming. It isn’t far removed from the realm of possibility that a singer/songwriter who once shared the same stage as ZZ Top with his prior band Tenderhooks to whip up this sort of musical mix and Jake Winstrom and his collaborators are convincing throughout. Jeff Bills hits all the right marks for this track to work, but he distinguishes himself as much for his production effort on this release. Bills brings a lean and economical approach to framing Winstrom’s songs that highlights the release. The inclusion of alternate instruments such as brass, organ, and piano among others fills out the sound of this collection with often startling results.
Winstrom’s second solo album continues running along a strong line with the second track. “Think Too Hard” is closer to electric folk than any other genre but Bills’ drumming, once again, supplies the track with a shot of urgency. The blending of those aforementioned strands of electric folk with an assertive backbeat makes this one of the album’s best tunes. Some listeners may object to Winstrom’s insistence on multitracking his vocals, but other listeners will relish the harmonies he creates and guest vocalists add a deeper musical touch to the performance.
The horns included in the track “What’s the Over Under?” give this take on dysfunctional relationships a romping air. Including instruments such as brass doesn’t come off as some grab for attention but, instead, a honest reflection of how you incorporate surprising new sounds into long-standing musical styles. Sarah Smith’s vocal contributions on the track “Loose Change” are an excellent addition to the album’s nine song structure and gives Winstrom’s songwriting an important counterpoint lacking in other cuts.
“Washed My Face in a Truck Stop Mirror” is the album’s most memorable song title and the accompanying number measures up. The emotional disorientation gnawing at the edges of this track never builds to an overwrought pitch, but it embodies the song’s introspective bent better than many other tracks on this studio recording. “The Crystal Ball” features nice electric guitar fills mixing with lighter instrumental work and Sarah Smith’s backing vocals once again aids in making this a more memorable moment. Organ is another critical ingredient in the song’s success.
“Kilimanjaro” brings the album to a close. Winstrom breaks out electric guitars in a bigger way than ever before during this track and it has the obvious trappings of a concluding song. It’s a slightly surreal landscape he builds with this lyric, but its low-watt hallucinatory quality is dramatic without straining credibility. Guitar fans will love the six string sound on this cut — it has a classic rock vibe without ever lapsing into cliché. Circles is filled with examples of how Jake Winstrom is skilled pouring old wine into new bottles and the distinctive flavor of the Tennessee native’s second solo album lingers long after its final notes.