Jake Winstrom “Circles” LP
Jake Winstrom’s songwriting for his latest release Circles has a singer/songwriter aesthetic. Its musical pedigree mixes acoustic folk, folk, electric folk, and indie rock together in a stew you can label Americana, but it is much more idiosyncratic than that. Winstrom works with producer Jeff Bills for a second time with his sophomore release and the attention to detail given to the vocals, in particular, highlights an overall complete musical and songwriting package. Though it isn’t by design, the often acoustic slant of this album and the highly individual vocals is perfect for the ongoing pandemic. It has a unity of point of view, as well, that makes the lyric presentation even more solid. Longtime fans of Winstrom’s talents, even his work with the band Tenderhooks, will rate the nine songs included on this release as among his finest achievements yet.
I enjoy how there’s a wide mix of different sounds weaving magic throughout this album. Winstrom begins with the bluesy shuffle of “Come to Texas She Said” and the poetic twist he provides to a well-trod subject helps make this stand out. It catches additional fire with Peggy Hambright’s organ playing. He turns his musical focus in a different direction for the next two tracks. “Think Too Hard” and “My Hiding Place” are mid-tempo electric folk tracks benefitting from great drumming. Jeff Bills’ double duty as drummer and producer for this release is essential to its success. The former, in particular, has a lovely rolling tempo where the drumming excels and the latter has a unsurprisingly, given its title, darker hue both musically and lyrically. These two songs contrast well with the album opener.
“I Walk in Circles” is the purest folk track on this release. It has stylized vocals like other tracks on the release and, perhaps, it might have benefitted more from an unadorned take with a single vocal track. Why quibble though? I admire the level of sensitivity he reaches with this track and how it takes a different direction from the album’s other cuts. Sarah Smith’s backing vocals during the track “Loose Change” is one of its distinguishing traits and her voice pairs up nicely with the song. “Washed My Face in a Truck Stop Mirror” is one of the best lyrics you will find on the release, certainly my favorite, and the accompanying arrangement and vocal mesh well. Winstrom’s talent for capturing significant detail reaches a zenith with his writing here.
“Kilimanjaro” is a great final track. He goes in for a different approach here than earlier tracks, though some of the guitar hints at it, and the sound he achieves is the album’s best. I like how the guitar playing has a lazy bite, never rushing its parts, but visceral and in your face. The lyric has enigmatic qualities, but any open-minded listener will appreciate, once more, Winstrom’s skill for invoking important details. This is an obvious labor of love rather than some paint by numbers indie release. Jake Winstrom’s Circles is personal without often being obscure and the songs are identifiable while still speaking in a language all their own.