Jessica Pratt – Quiet Signs (4 stars)

Jessica Pratt – Quiet Signs

Californian folk singer returns with a quietly confident third album

A hushed confidence saturates Jessica Pratt's third album. As the first of the Californian folk singer's albums to be recorded entirely in a professional studio, it shows off her musical craft to be well honed. The cover art shows Pratt standing tall in a suit, assertively looking down into the lens, declaring her presence. The music quietly matches this announcement of self-assuredness.

Quiet Signs is also the first of Pratt's albums to be conceived as a self-contained whole, and this is apparent in a collection of songs which are clearly all spun from the same sonic yarn. Listening through the album is like thumbing through a photo album from a summer past, the songs capturing an assortment of subjects and moments, all through a consistent hazy sepia.

The arrangements are sparse; Pratt's finger-picked acoustic guitar and sweetly spectral vocal are at the core of every track, with a little flute, organ and piano peppered throughout. Often songs are built on repetitions of as few as two chords as canvas for Pratt's swirling melodic lines. This minimalism means that each musical element holds meaning; small changes and additions have big impact.

The dusky piano of 'Opening Night' is indeed a scene setter, before 'As the World Turns' sets the album properly on its path with the first hints of a disquiet that mutters under this album's peaceful surface. 'Fare Thee Well' brings proximity and warmth that continues through the paradisal chords on 'Poly Blue' which evokes lens flares and Indian summers. The later track 'Crossing' is trademark of the album's mood of ever creeping unease in the tranquility.

Pratt's distinctive pronunciation means that lyrics are most often blurred, casting shadows and shades rather than weaving a narrative through music which sounds decidedly old, but that evades any pastiche or precise reference. Quiet Signs does not shout about anything; it barely raises its voice above a whisper. But this is where it's strength lies, beckoning us into a cocoon of indistinct memories with more layers than those apparent at first glance.

Out now on City Slang.

Jessica Pratt

Singer-songwriter Jessica Pratt mixes folk and country in playful ways.

The Blue Arrow Club, Glasgow

Sat 23 Mar

£12.65

Brighthelm Church and Community Centre, Brighton

Mon 25 Mar

£12.10

Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

Fri 22 Mar

£11 / 0113 275 2411

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