To look at the cover of Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter's Like, Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul is to see Emmylou Harris (Luxury Liner), Joni Mitchell or Neil Young. The parted hair, and soft color tones instantly harkens a more placid and revealing time--a moment when substantiation was favored to the obsession with materialism that is so widespread today. Sexy. Beautiful. Weathered. Tough. Smart. Feminine. Masculine. Bold. The personality of the artist, and band, encompass all of these adjectives, and more. Her voice bends and arcs throughout the album. The vibe is definitely western U.S., and evokes feelings of both desolation and peace. The emotion released by this album is common to the human experience, and is easily digested.
The album opens with an acoustic guitar and country harmonica on "Eisenhower Moon," by no means the standout on the album, but a song that does well to lull us toward the peaceful mood that follows. "LLL" shows that Sykes can channel early Zeppelin Robert Plant--exuding an androgynous energy that ingratiates rather than intimidates. The band (Sykes on acoustic guitar; Phil Wandscher on guitar, harmonica, lapsteel, and keyboards; Anne Marie Ruljancich on viola; Bill Herzog on bass; Eric Eagle providing percussion) amply match Sykes' energy, and that Zeppelin vibe, while providing charming backing vocals. "LLL" begins with the refrain "I wanted you to stay, on a sun-drenched holiday"--and immediately recalls the sensation of an incomplete love that was stolen from Sykes' grasp. But both Sykes and her listeners know this is not always possible--and that there is no shame in loving someone who does not return that feeling; only pain, and memory.
On "You Might Walk Away," the sweat drips out of the blues, and tastes of intoxicant. There's a Blind Melon riff to the song, and the vocals are as near to Shannon Hoon as exists (regardless of sex). That type of honesty and charisma of voice and spirit is hard to ignore when she sings "...cold raindrops fall, and you might walk away." You feel that pain. "Spectral Beings" opens with a breathy harmony of sighs that recalls the Beatles' "Because," and then ambles back toward the range of R. Plant--an enviable mash.
The symbiosis between Sykes and her band is palpable--as though the sweet hereafter is a metaphor of the trail, or essence, that is left just barely behind as Sykes saunters by. The process of courtship--to like, love and lust after another--is perhaps the crux of our subsistence, the driving force behind the diverse pathos that exist in our community at large. Like, Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soulevinces beauty, in the form of sadness--every bit the worthy adversary of majestic joy. • Robert Karmin
[These photographs were taken by our friend (and frequent Puremusic contributor) Steffen Paulus. To see more of Steffen's many cool music shots (and to check out his annual reports from SXSW) visit Turn It Up Or Turn It Off.]