In a state that is famous for one or two signature (and redundant) “shore” sounds, original, unsigned musicians continue to carry the region, lobbing one-two punches in a battle to enlighten music aficionados in theaters, bars, clubs, coffee houses and eateries along the Eastern Seaboard. Essence of folk, country and homegrown Americana blend and flourish with high levels of punk and prog rock originality, spreading great and grassroots prophecy far into the Garden heartland and beyond.
Spotswood, New Jersey, native Deirdre Forrest steps up to take her shot at that everlasting movement with her latest offering, titled Weathered Woes. Co-produced by Forrest and singer-songwriter Michael Brett, Weathered Woes takes an unhindered peek into the mind of an artist striking out on a long-running journey of compositional understanding and growth. The disc was engineered in March of 2013 over at Main Street Studios in Middletown, NJ, with sound engineer Brian Ostering of The Wag.
Utilizing heartfelt players such as Moon Motel, Jim Mill, Tommy Strazza, Ron Santee (The Battery Electric) and the APM talents of Tony Tedesco from Full Fathom Five, Deidre assembles the perfect amount of summit power to raise her music, stock and visibility without putting her in the incestuous doghouse of local artists that use all the same guys, and make my job one of basically judging fronted karaoke.
Shy and soft-spoken by nature, Forrest has a bold voice that captivates and lulls in the same space, exuding glissando, power and tone in ranges unattainable to many and unseen by the rest who search for “the” sound. Her interest in performance comes from her father, Stuart Forrest, a multi-talented instrumentalist and poet that introduced her to her true musical passions at a very young age.
I’ve watched her as a solo, as part of a band and as support for other artists, so I was quite interested in seeing what she had to say with her latest full-length disc.
Weathered Woes is an intimately open offering in the influential range of Alison Krauss, Amy Winehouse and Jonatha Brooke, and I’ve written down a few personal observations as I listened along the way.
“Freedom Love” is a bluesy stomper in the contemporary vein of Adele. Smoky vamps crash into the back beat rhythms of Ron Santee (The Battery Electric.) Staccato guitar hits growl underneath Forrest’s ethereal and waif-like soprano. Special guest lead work from Tommy Strazza breaks into the bridge, bubbling combinations of Curtis Mayfield and Robin Trower as he double bends feedbacked six-string exuberance into the song’s gritty soul. Raucous and packed with voodoo moxie, “Freedom Love” is one of the best openers for a disc I’ve heard in months.
“Remnants” percolates gently into the second slot. Featuring Michael Brett’s warm bass and acoustic guitar work, he’s joined by percussionist Moon Motel to light the way to Forrest’s pristine melodic vocal. Forrest has an amazing voice and I think it would be interesting to hear her harmonizing with someone like a Jerzy Jung or an Audrey Kate Geiger instead of supplying her own harmonies. It should also be noted that Deirdre is a skilled ukulele player, and, as evident here, she peppers the entire disc with her four-string Zen.
“Patty Sue” is up next and features the spry mandolin work of co-producer Michael Brett. Forrest credits the tune’s melody to Irish/Americana songwriter (and uncle) Thomas Johnston. Forrest and Johnston have worked together in the past with the Irish folk duo Beannacht, and their seamless solidarity is still apparent as she takes the reins on her own here. Fluid and carried on stories of gilded elations of the past, “Patty Sue” sails through brisk, analog splashes of life on its chartered course to melodic tranquility.
Deirdre’s uke takes front and center on what I would consider as one of the disc’s strongest songs. “Gossamer” immediately hooks the listener with Forrest’s addictive and catchy vocal lilt. With a strange musical conglomeration that combines the bouncy energy of Rickie Lee Jones, the organic warmth of the Grateful Dead and the lazy, hazy breeziness of Blind Melon, “Gossamer” is a winner from the very start. One again co-producer Brett steps in to add vibrant color on everything except the Cajon, a job left to the ever-capable Moon Motel. Acoustic guitars spring off of percussive markers as Forrest squeezes every ounce of her soul into the lyrical prose. Adorably open and compositionally sparse, this is a song that stays with you for days.
“Morgan Avenue” is up next and wastes no time as it swings into its mega waltz stance. This is an upstate, Woodstock-flavored gem that reminds me of Amy Helm. Emotionally deep and dynamically open, Forrest seethes on this composition. Written as she was coming out of a particularly bad relationship, her point of view sizzles and burns with chagrin and aftermath understanding of escaping the past. Brett’s bare-bones acoustic lead outro is an excellent touch.
“Amends” features guest vocalist Jim Mill. Jim is someone I’ve covered before and his trademark gruff vocal is often associated with some crazy hippy named Eddie Vedder. And while that is sometimes unabashedly visible, his dueling role on “Amends” is both original and complimentary in tone. Forrest utilizes a minored, traditional key which harkens the listener back to chain gang rhythms and work camp melodies. Interesting in its intimate, “Brother where art thou?” delivery, Deirdre and Mill take dark turns at verse under the musical ministrations of Brett. Hypnotic and unfettered, “Amends” secures position of disc lynchpin quite well.
Forrest blows the whistle on the pretenders with “Celestial End.” With a thematic bend toward “forever burning out,” “Celestial End” runs dark and broody as a Smoky Mountain stream. Acoustic guitars riff old school Howlin’ Wolf boogie through dangerous S-turn journeys of backcountry strife. Cajon, acoustic guitars and bass do a great and stable job of supporting here, however, I could have used a bit more constructive build via B3, fiddle or Les Paul pizzazz on the back end.
There are a few other songs on the disc, but “Leaving Lullaby” was the closer and it warranted special mention before I ran out of column space.
“Leaving Lullaby” features Matt Lott on saxophone, Ron Santee on drums and the powerhouse talents of Tony Tedesco on electric guitar. Sounding somewhere between Big Brother And The Holding Company and Kacey Musgraves, in a sweaty, wood-floored juke box bar, “Leaving Lullaby” is a dream walk, homespun tale into the surreal absurdities of love, sorrow and the ongoing methods of life’s exasperating perseverance. Great and powerful pre-choruses set up sweet, superbly harmonized Brett/Forrest choruses. Tony Tedesco slinks into the bridge, utilizing two- and three-note Steve Cropper ice pick runs before tossing out a blazing hand of Pee Wee Crayton meets Joe Bonamassa sanctification. By the time Forrest is back, he’s tucked neatly back into the bed of this stately, back porch blues jam.
Some might argue against my next statement, and indeed, there are times when I usually would as well, but for this project I would have liked to have seen more extensive production work. Don’t get me wrong, Weathered Woes is a well-handled effort and the songs are quite good, I just felt that some things sounded a bit too unfinished at times. Once again, this is just my opinion. At the end of the day, the argument for less is more is still quite legitimate.
Deirdre Forrest has one of the most beautiful singing voices in the music scene bar none. Originally toned, melodically pristine and steeped in a proud tradition of Jersey talent on the rise, I’m happy to see Deirdre Forrest with a CD that shows the music world where this talented singer-songwriter comes from, and easily tells us the good places she’s inevitably on her way to.
Weathered Woes is out and available over at facebook.com/deirdreforrestmusic.