The Upshot: Stephen Hawking is not the only one asking for more from their universe – and this savvy pop genius may have just given birth to the perfect soundtrack to help us find our way.
BY ERIC THOM
Seemingly the illegitimate love child of Jeff Lynne and Jason Falkner, this lush, stunning release from this Stonington, Connecticut native is more than deserving of your special listening chair and favorite beverage(s). Four albums in, it’s clear that Jesse Terry’s shtick is no fluke case of mere, misguided Beatle worship – he has the tunes, the arrangements, the voice and a cast of like-minded musical prodigies to bring his dream to life.
There’s much meat to be found within each lavish arrangement – his larger-than-life, sweeping string section is powered by real players who have clearly pulled hard on the same Koolaid, sharing his passion. Whereas Lynne’s signature sound is built around over-sized, shimmering bits of harmonized vocals and acoustic guitars marrying rock’n’roll to Beatlesque pop, Terry goes one better. He anoints each complex arrangement with compelling vocals that are sweet, smooth perfection, stirred into each composition like so much clarified butter – each song sounding better than the last.
The stunning “Stargazer”, for example, benefits from Terry’s Harry Nilsson-like range, with an emphasis on his higher register. It is this combination – deep, rich strings and ethereal vocals – that keep this beautiful tune high up in the cosmos and immersed in the stars. By comparison, the equally ravishing “Woken The Wildflowers” strikes a slightly darker chord, embellished by inventive strings that, along with its striking chorus, help to sink its notable hook. With lyrical content espousing a restatement of American ideals in today’s trying times, this strong track makes the most of Terry’s higher range and backing vocalists to create a song you can’t get away from, even if you wanted to. The slightly more rock-pop shimmer of “Dangerous Times” recalls the pouty attitude of Tom Petty, boasting similar degrees of radio-friendly jangle, lush harmonies and, with increased emphasis on guitar, offers a tougher alternative to the album’s heavily string-laden beginnings. “Only A Pawn” offers a twist as its complicated arrangement leans on plucked cellos and dark violin sweeps to offset its emphasis on the delicate interplay of voices, finger snaps, synth and rhythmic drumbeats.
If something from Sgt. Pepper’s comes to mind, that deal is hammered home with the first strains of the highly Beatle-esque “Kaleidoscope”. Terry’s Lennon-ized lead vocal melds with Fab Four-grade backup vocals that float their “Fa la la la la”s over the composition as the rich tempo of Josh Kaler’s drums complete the recipe, together with stringed accompaniment and some distinctly out-of-character guitar edge from Terry. This is Beatles worship at its finest, enhanced by razor-sharp, upgraded sounds. “Stay Low” is another puzzler in this mix, as its melody gets somewhat lost, compromised by disjointed strings and offbeat piano, despite the usual lush vocals and rich backup support. “Won’t Let The Boy Die” resuscitates the flow, strongly recalling the majesty of the late, great Gerry Rafferty – his vocal style a sophisticated variation on McCartney’s. Another upbeat pop masterpiece, Terry employs equal parts strings, drums and guitar and, once again, a triumphant chorus, replete with smooth backing vocals and tumbling drums. An acoustic guitar-and-bass-drum-driven “Dance In Our Old Shoes” presents a welcome change of pace, graced by its dynamic chorus as acoustic goes electric – and back. Terry retains that strong Rafferty element in his lead vocal while the song’s contagious, hard-strummed acoustic sound illustrates another strong addition to the young singer’s arsenal. The piano-rock intro to “Runaway Town” sets up this Rafferty-tinged folk-rocker, its overall energy recalling the BoDeans at their roots-rock best as Terry lays claim to even more creative turf than he might’ve believed possible. The spacey electric guitar accompanying the strummed acoustic guitar helps move “Trouble In My Head” high and outside as this blissful ballad applies strings to elevate the emotions, further demonstrating Terry’s bottomless potential. The closing “Dear Amsterdam” is a gentle anthem, if not thoughtful lullaby, to a beautiful city, all the more celestial through Terry’s use of swelling strings as he further harnesses his somewhat exploratory Harry Nilsson side.
The blend of Terry’s dynamic vocals to those of Josh Kaler, Danny Mitchell and Jeremy Lister cannot be underestimated in the success of this record. At the same time, renowned composer Danny Mitchell deserves a hearty bow in the wake of his stringed arrangements, responsible for much of Stargazer’s stand-out sound – brought to you by David Davidson and David Angell on violin, Monisa Angell on viola and Carole Rabinowitz on cello. Multi-instrumentalists Mitchell (piano, organ, keyboards) and Josh Kaler (drums, bass, guitars, lap steel) join Terry on vocals and guitar to create a Nashville-based session band without equal on this highly spirited release.
As Terry has noted, Stargazer was a labor of love as he and his producer, Kaler, worked to bring something fresh to each track – hoping to mirror his taste in many of the well-produced and expertly-realized records he first fell in love with as a music fan. You can hear these influences on Stargazer as you can appreciate the amount of work that’s gone into mastering each and every song. And, as you wake up singing these hooks over and over to yourself songs because you just can’t get them out of your head, you’ll soon appreciate the full value of Stargazer. It’s that good.
DOWNLOAD: “Stargazer,” “Woken the Wildflowers,” “Dance In Our Old Shoes”