Folk singer Jessica Pratt releases stirring second album

By Jackson Maxwell

(The Holy Grail/Flickr)
(The Holy Grail/Flickr)

Though Jessica Pratt’s influences and touchstones are clear when you first hear her unmistakable music, they never dominate her sound. Pratt’s delicate, intricately woven folk songs are equal parts Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake and early 1970s glam rock.

Her idiosyncratic singing voice, a sharp, but captivating falsetto, never seems to rise much higher than a whisper. The complexities of her acoustic guitar playing compliment and interact beautifully with her voice. This interaction lets every one of Pratt’s songs paint a full picture.

Hidden amongst the pastoral folk sound of Pratt’s second album, “On Your Own Love Again,” released Jan. 27, is a profound sense of wonder and fantasy. This is where the early 70s glam rock comes into the picture. When Pratt gently croons, “Sometimes I pray for the rain,” on the album’s centerpiece, the stunning “Back, Baby,” there is a lingering sense of the flower-power generation. Like much of the music that defined the glam rock genre, the songs on “On Your Own Love Again” are defiantly steeped in almost naïve fantasy.

“On Your Own Love Again” is Pratt’s first release since signing to indie powerhouse Drag City Records. Her self-titled debut, released in late 2012, was more an amalgamation of recordings Pratt had made during the preceding five years than a proper album. Though her debut was astounding in spots,
“On Your Own Love Again” benefits from a more unified and developed sound.

Over gentle acoustic fingerpicking, Pratt paints a beautifully surreal picture in opener, “Wrong Hand.” One immediately gets a sense of how rich Pratt’s playing is, with each individual note making a distinctive mark on the song.

“People’s faces blend together like a watercolor you can’t remember,” Pratt intones on the equally gorgeous single, “Game That I Play.” In contrast, Pratt strikes between her heavenly playing and the song’s hazy and bleak emotional landscape, most resembling Nick Drake. But it is not as if Pratt’s voice gets lost in the obvious similarities, as her vocal delivery and the atmosphere she creates are unmistakably hers.

“Strange Melody” truly has a fitting title, with a creeping riff and haunting vocals. Pratt’s full emotional range is on display here, as she goes from quietly murmuring in the verses to exulting brightly in the chorus. “Greycedes” almost feels like an interlude but marks itself as a key moment despite its brevity. Not only does it have one of the album’s best melodies and choruses, but it is filled with memorable chord progressions and instrumental flourishes, the kind that stick with you long after the song has ended.

Though “On Your Own Love Again” is noticeably consistent, the aforementioned “Back, Baby” is by far the album’s highlight. Built on a bone-simple riff and chord progression, Pratt makes all of the song’s small moments matter. In the song’s bridge, Pratt quietly sings, “If there was a time that you loved me.” She is not quite posing the lyric as a question, but she is not stating as fact either.

It is that sort of ambiguity that makes “Back, Baby” such an indicator of the brilliance that lies within “On Your Own Love Again.” It is not an album that comes bursting out of speakers with gale force, but when Pratt tells you, “Sometimes I pray for the rain,” little else matters.

Jackson Maxwell can be reached at [email protected]