REVIEW: Skittish — Savannah Sessions (LP)
Jeff Noller’s Skittish has been an ongoing force on the independent music scene since 2007 and, six albums on, has consolidated a reputation as one of the most artful folk-rock acts working today. A number of musicians have rounded out past Skittish releases and Savannah Sessions is no different, but the creative power driving the band is Noller’s songwriting. This new collection features some of Noller’s best songwriting yet and exhibits his thematic range in a great way for newcomers and longtime fans alike. It is obvious Noller has not stood pat over the course of six releases and his constant interest in developing his skills and expanding his reach makes Savannah Sessions an invigorating listening experience from first song to last.
“Intro (Vert)” is a brief opening track but nonetheless sets the intimate tone defining the remainder of this album. Noller’s penchant for memorable vocal melodies is central to this song’s success, but its brevity is a strength as well. His voice is an ideal fit for the bedroom folk/rock Skittish has pursued since first emerging on the scene in 2007. “The Hole” opens with a striding piano riff before additional instrumentation enters the picture and the energy he generates during the opening minute sweeps listeners into the track. Noller’s vocal is compelling and the same attention to detail we heard him give the singing in the first cut continues here.
“Car Crash Companion” boasts potent commercial potential. It will be a stinging live number as well thanks to its up-tempo pace and the spot-on confluence of acoustic and indie rock strands running through this performance. Noller’s songwriting shines, in part, thanks to his ability to marry an accessible point of view with higher aesthetic sensibilities. This isn’t by the numbers indie folk-rock traveling familiar cliched ground. It is individual yet inviting.
The eye-popping blues/classical hybrid “Before the Devil Knows” makes an improbable but wildly impressive shift from a haunted acoustic blues into a track rife with strings. The isolation the global pandemic produced led to a much more insular recording, to be sure, but songs such as this are outliers under any daily conditions. They sparkle with a sense of the possible few musical artists aspire to. Brianna Tagg’s vocals during the track “Hello Deadly” put an emphatic exclamation point on one of the album’s strongest performances. The music achieves a swing lasting throughout the track, but Noller shows a knowing hand for when he can spike the tempo in creative ways. There’s a strong pop bounce coloring this song as well.
“Parallel Life” casts a brilliant glow as well thanks to the union of music and vocals. The latter, once again, achieves near ethereal levels at some points and Skittish returns to a largely acoustic approach. The penultimate song “Blue Daisies” is a musical smorgasbord in miniature as it moves from a nasty guitar driven crawl into an airier section and picks up the pace later in the track. It’s a tumultuous musical experience but never lacks direction and you can’t help but be impressed by Noller’s abundant ideas. Skittish’s latest release Savannah Sessions is a must-hear for anyone interested in modern folk-rock, but you should never assume you can confine Jeff Noller’s songwriting to a single box.