Tennessee-born and Brooklyn, New York based singer/songwriter Jake Winstrom‘s second solo collection Circles dovetails well with the Year of the Pandemic. I believe even the more boisterous moments you’ll hear on this release are shaped by a level of intimacy Jake Winstrom has never realized until now. Much of the reason for this is because of the first person point of view propping up each song, the consistency of the voice emerging from these songs, and Jeff Bills’ outstanding production. It focus on fundamentals while providing the necessary polish to help get these songs over with new and old admirers alike. There is unexpected instrumentation, a plethora of crack guest musicians and singers, but Winstrom’s songwriting and vocals are the heart of this recording.
Even newcomers to Winstrom’s work will be taken with a track such as “Come to Texas She Said”. Male/female relations are the dominant topic of the release, but he writes about this time-tested subject with personal twists of language you can’t really compare with anyone else. If it is true there’s nothing new under the sun, then it’s how you say what’s been said before that’s more important than anything. Winstrom writes with an unique voice and his physical voice has a deeply emotional quality despite its non-mainstream sound.
“Think Too Hard” gains a lot of melodic value from the gentle roll of piano underlying the drums and guitar. Jeff Bills’ drumming deserves a special mention here for the tasty pocket he occupies from the song’s outset. It sets a tone for the track that strengths it for me. “My Hiding Place” is even more laid back than its predecessor and the elegant chord fills fleshing out the melody are an excellent touch. I hear a certain amount of brooding in the spirit of this track, it is obviously introspective as most songs are on this release, and the lonesome midnight whine in Winstrom’s voice gives the track a strong emotive edge.
“I Walk in Circles” has the lightest touch of any recording on Circles. You might expect Winstrom to turn the song in a much different direction at any moment, but instead he maintains the low-key acoustic thrust of the track from beginning to end. The vocals are among my favorite moments on the album. The addition of string instrumentation helps expand on its potential. Peggy Hambright’s organ riffing throughout “Loose Change” is this track’s musical highlight for me, but the mix of emotions Winstrom achieves in the lyric follows close behind. It’s another on-point performance from Jeff Bills as well.
I love the ruined grandeur of the closer “Kilimanjaro”. Winstrom and his musical cohorts rock things up a lot with this track, but it’s never overwrought and relies on character rather than histrionics. I love the lyrics as well, there are some outstanding turns present throughout this track, and Winstrom capitalizes on each one. Circles is not a perfect album, that white whale eludes every recording artist, but it’s a honest reflection of where his imagination is now in this wild and wooly world we live.