Jesse Lafser: Land In Sight

Videos by American Songwriter

Jesse Lafser
Land In Sight
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

St. Louis native and folk singer-songwriter Jesse Lafser has been making music in Nashville for a few years now, slowly navigating her way along the outskirts of a music scene that can be notoriously difficult to break into. After a handful of EPs, an obscure full-length and a live album, one would hope for some heightened recognition, perhaps a more solidified spot among more well-known local artists, or at the very least, a change. With the release of her second full-length album, Land In Sight, Lafser has accomplished all of the above, and in a way, is finally making her debut, signifying an ascension to a true launch point for her career and her enlightened musical journey.

Produced by Mike Odmark at Grey Matters studio, Land In Sight offers a varied take on modern Americana, aptly demonstrating the value in developing the craft of songwriting, and proving that music from America’s beloved story-telling genre doesn’t always have to sound the same. The title track and opener are a case in point, pumping in with retro folk rock that kindly tips its hat to Bob Dylan and the mighty Hammond B-3, and already, the mid-’60s throwback is an indicator that Lafser has refined her music taste since Tiny Wars.

Heavy hearted yet triumphant, the album is rife with metaphors and accounts of life at sea, vagabondage and the good old days, all entwined with themes of love lost and eventually found. But Lafser’s ability to tell a story and write so convincingly about things that she has never actually experienced is remarkable. Granted, folk musicians are notoriously the best story tellers, but there aren’t that many 20-somethings who can compellingly describe what it’s like to come home from a war, live as a sea captain in the 19th century, or be homeless and subsist off of hopping trains — and then take those stories and combine them with a hell of a lot of introspection to become songs for the modern day.

Perhaps a gruff old man would do better to share the experiences Lafser seems to have such an affinity for recreating, but her unassuming voice is subdued, simple and clear — perfectly suited for delivering the profound truths that can only be learned by someone who has experienced financial struggle, depression, substance abuse, writer’s block, and all of the other highs and lows that often mark the career of an independent musician, or a bona-fide free spirit. The lively single “Anywhere I Go” is a story of love conquering all geographical bounds, which upliftingly falls after the gorgeous album standout, “Seafarer’s Dream.” Featuring guest vocals by Nashville’s Andrew Combs, (who also sings on “Tonight,” the closest thing to square-dancing music that Land In Sight offers), “Seafarer’s Dream” gives way to nine more tracks that are as inspiring as the album’s title.

Rather than drifting into a lull of filler, Land In Sight takes a similar course to Emmylou Harris’ Hard Bargain, whose treasures were buried in the second half of the album. Lafser’s opening songs only make way for better ones in this collection, like the mystifying “Farsighted Problem” and “False Alarm,” the vessel for one of the record’s many earworms. “On Love and War” is a heart-rending and gentle ballad whose lyrics and melody are on par with Gillian Welch or Patty Griffin — in the sense of their ability to compellingly tell someone else’s story, and by the end, have listeners in tears, convinced that they’re listening to the protagonist’s firsthand account. The song begins with, “I come home from the war, don’t recognize myself anymore. This town, even your face — everything’s changed, I’ve seen too many things. And I feel I’ve wasted so many years, doin’ time, tryin’ to make you disappear. And I know there’s an old saying, love never tires, but I’m tired. And I know love never grows old, but I’ve aged — like the red wine that you keep in your cellar just in case.” Look out, Grey’s Anatomy.

At times, the somewhat lengthy intros become monotonous, but they are inevitably forgotten and forgiven by the time one of Lafser’s powerful choruses rolls around, which is precisely what happens on the sentimental “Mississippi Line” and “Pale Afternoon.” As the effectuation of Lafser as captain and the listeners as her crew, Land In Sight is like a tumultuous adventure at sea: an exploratory journey with exciting discoveries to buoy the weight of emotional fatigue. For a sea-weary, hard-worn musician like Jesse Lafser, her courage and determination are commendable and relieving, and confirm that she isn’t afraid to dig into the past and herself to find what she’s been searching for — (the treasure). Let’s just be glad she didn’t call the album, Land Hoe.

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