Folk Off! Lee Jeffrey's Joy Of Misgivings In Skunk Hollow
Folk... it's practically a four-letter word at this point, innit? Sure, you have your occasional breakout artists - the curmudgeonly (and consistently breathtaking) Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon, Sufjan Stevens, or living legacy artists like Bob Dylan or Neil Young - giving some validity to steel or nylon strings stretched taut across wooden bodies in actual space. But for many, including the taste masters and cognoscenti, "folk music" conjures image of amateurism over virtuosity; poor fidelity; shoddy and mostly lackluster songwriting, likely dribbling from a slightly elevated stage in the corner of your favorite coffee shop while you're trying to get caffeinated and get some work done.
Minnesotan troubadour Lee Jeffrey took inspiration for his sophomore album's title from being "a bitter optimist", capturing Joy Of Misgivings in Skunk Hollow’s 14 tracks between eking out a subsistence living baking bread, traveling around and living life in a period between relationships.
Being a "bitter optimist" is a wonderful synapsis of what it is to be an album reviewer, as well. Every time we peel back the cover or drop a needle, we are praying to the Elder Gods that we will hear something insightful, exciting, inspiring, in spite of having weathered tidal waves of flabby, flaccid mediocrity, like some dreadful brown undertow, dragging us to The Complete Death Of Inspiration.
The optimism remains, however, thanks to records like Joy Of Misgivings in Skunk Hollow "folk-influenced" or merely "acoustic music" (although you'll hear some electric axe, as well). Feather-light acoustic guitars and hushed, plaintiff, airy vocals make up the majority of the framework of Joy Of Misgivings in Skunk Hollow, which is further augmented with subdued percussion; occasional Catherine wheels of harmonica; and the occasional guest voice (courtesy of Sarah DeYoung).
Jeffrey recorded most of Joy Of Misgivings in Skunk Hollow in a small apartment studio. Instead of trying to make it sound like Joy Of Misgivings in Skunk Hollow was tracked at Abbey Road, he finds the perfect tension between clarity and roughness. Jeffrey abuses his acoustic guitars with a crumbling, antiquated tape machine, giving an authentic aged feel, something like M. Ward's Music For Transistor Radio.
The closest and most apt comparison would be to the dearly departed Elliott Smith, as Lee Jeffrey uses the sparse pallet of voice and acoustic guitar as a leaping-off point, to create a work of sublime classical acoustic art pop, as heard on album openers "Together" and "Rifle."
With Joy Of Misgivings in Skunk Hollow, Lee Jeffrey has elevated folk craft into high art. Jeffrey counterpoints the rough authenticity of home-recorded acoustic music with genuine Brill Building songwriting chops and instincts. This is not "She'll be coming 'round the mountain," but a layered, nuanced, detailed and masterfully executed song cycle from a soulful and heartfelt musician.
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