Despite the bare bones sound of The Jane Room 217 by Darren Jessee, it is an album requiring multiple plays before you can hope to fully digest it. The opening number “Anything You Need” is one of the release’s more conventional numbers and exposes the sensitive terrain Jessee explores with his first solo release. The song’s acoustic guitar sound has great warmth and a straightforward style – unlike later tunes, the only real additional adornment, beyond Jessee’s voice naturally, is brief snatches of keyboards bringing an eloquent counterpoint to the aforementioned parts and understated strings that figures in as an important component in the overall album. Jessee’s lyrical style can be described as impressionistic, but it’s in the best possible way – listeners are treated to the autobiographical side of his songwriting, or at least a suggestion thereof, while Jessee’s style allows us to connect with the song on our own terms.
“True Blue”, the album’s second song, begins in much the same way. Darren Jessee adopts a more clipped style on the guitar than we heard with the opener. It maintains that style throughout much of the cut before the violin once again makes an appearance alongside some electric guitar touches providing an added swath of understated color. The song also has one of the album’s best choruses. One of the release’s peak moments comes with the track “Dying Violins” and the powerful imagery of the opener comes back here and Jessee’s voice shows off a superior skill for phrasing that makes those lyrical gems all the more effective. Some naysayers might claim there isn’t enough variety on this album, but they aren’t hearing The Jane Room 217 in the right way; instead, Jessee has obviously labored to create an unified, consistent release and succeeds. Few albums you’ll hear this year share such consistency of both themes and sound.
The guitar beginning “Ruins” has a languid pacing and a stunningly good opening line from Jessee leading to even greater moments throughout. The transition into a wider musical sound that comes around the one minute mark carries the song to even greater heights. This is a tune honoring the memory of an experience and Darren Jessee invests it with all the emotion he can bring to bear. “Leaving Almost Ready” has another strong chorus and some piano interspersed alongside more violin accompaniment. The steady “rolling” effect of Jessee’s voice during the chorus is one of the most effective parts of the song and makes the refrain instantly memorable.
“All But a Dream” has more of the impressionistic imagery referred to earlier in the review, but the cumulative effect of the tune is a little more diffuse than earlier numbers at first. It strengthens as it goes on and the three a.m. qualities of Jessee’s voice will impress listeners once again. The Jane Room 217 ends with “Go On Baby Break Down” and begins with the steady strum of Jessee’s acoustic guitar. It features some of Jessee’s best writing on the release and some of the specificity of the imagery will stun more than a few listeners. This is the standard for the vast majority of Darren Jessee’s solo debut – an excellence that grows on you with each new listen.
-review by Sebastian Cole