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Jesse Sykes and The Sweet Hereafter | Reckless Burning (Burn Burn Burn)
Announcing its arrival via a slow swell of harmonium, feather-like percussion, muted static-feedback and the barest though undeniable hint of Neil Young-like guitar squall, Reckless Burning, the title track of this impressive debut album, then glides over, under and through you for over seven minutes. Intimate, evocative and brimful with richly detailed tangible imagery and heartfelt emotion, Sykes spellbinding voice and the effortless way her impressive band interweave with it enraptures you immediately. Imagine a more forthright Margo Timmins or perhaps Mimi Parker and that provides an intoxicating hint of the qualities of Jesse Sykes' voice. Ultimately though this should be regarded as a band project as the co-billing implies, and deservedly so. The exemplary production by Tucker Martine, enticingly warm and spacious, is also worthy of specific mention. Though mostly of a country-oriented hue, the performances and finely tuned arrangements on the album really ought to render such narrow genre-specifics as pointless. Dense, airy, claustrophobic, euphoric and haunting, sometimes during the same song, 'Reckless Burning' is a wholly impressive work. There's some pedigree here too, which isn't surprising. Sykes, now in her mid-thirties, clearly has some real-life experiences behind the inspiration for these songs - lines like "You picked me up, you dried me off, you were hopelessly devoted to my darkest hour / I knew I broke every rule, just so I 'd be close to you", from the album's closing track Lullaby, seem so heartbreakingly honest that you can't help but feel there must have been a real story behind them. Co-written with her partner Phil Wandscher (both had recently undergone traumatic break-ups just before they met - Sykes, her divorce from her husband Jim and the subsequent dissolution of Hominy, the band they had both been part of for several years and Wandscher, his acrimonious departure from Whiskeytown after four years, following the release of the band's breakthrough album 'Strangers Almanac'), and augmented by Anne Marie Ruljancich (The Walkabouts) on violin and cello, Bill Herzog (Neko Case, Joel Phelps & The Downer Trio, Citizen's Utilities) on bass and Kevin Warner (Evangeline) on drums, The Sweet Hereafter's credentials speak for themselves and their collective talents make for a spellbinding debut that's one of the best albums I've heard so far this year.

Geraint Jones
CWAS #11 - Autumn 2002