When you look at Henry Jamison, you can tell by his kind eyes and beanie that he'd happily hold your hair back while you throw up after too many beers and assure you that you're beautiful. He's taken his classic rom-com-underdog good looks (that, and his undeniable talent) and made a flourishing career as a singer songwriter.
His songs are poetic, tender, and thoughtful, often sounding like a mix between spoken word and coffee shop crooning. His lyrics are specific, overly enunciated, and distinctly his own. He first gained a following with his 2017 EP The Rains and his follow up album, The Wilds, which feature hits like "Real Peach" and "The Rains." These songs focus on the staples of classic folk: pretty girls in corn fields, dreamy walks spent pondering trees by ambiguous bodies of water, and, of course, lots of melodious "oooo"s and "ahhh"s.
While The Wilds was a great album, Jamison's new LP, Gloria Duplex, is an explosive piece of art that deepens the genre of indie folk and cements his place among music's great storytellers. Song by song, it deconstructs the concept of masculinity and explores what it means to be a man in 2019. While the subject is decidedly timely, its delivery makes it feel timeless, and it's handled with the kind of delicacy and precision expected from a graduate thesis, not a folk album. His message is perhaps most poignant in the title track, "Gloria," where he proclaims:
"Me and my cousin were walking one day
By the Dairy Queen drive-thru down by the highway
And he found some flowers, a busted bouquet
And he put a hydrangea in his hair
Some kids at the Dairy Queen were calling him gay
And then to my surprise I knew just what to say
I said, 'boys, if you're looking for your worthiness
Well it's already there.'
No more nightmares of a lack of love
No need to win the race to face your father"
While many artists wouldn't be able to pull off this kind of on-thenose messaging, Jamison does it gracefully and earnestly. His tendency to over enunciate every lyric is an interesting stylistic choice that serves a dual purpose of focusing his songs on the meaning of the lyrics. The accompanying music is simple and emotionally charged but clearly intended to be a mere accessory to the carefully crafted words.
Another standout track is "Florence Nightingale," which Jamison calls, "My favorite song I ever wrote."
And for good reason. The emotional track features moving violin, the kind of florid dreaminess that imbued his earlier work, and some of the most powerful lyricism in modern folk music. The song floats between various instances of men creating unnecessary conflict and violence, always circling back to Florence Nightingale coming in the night to heal the men's wounds. The words alone would be powerful, but with Jamison's emotive voice and ability to tell a story, it becomes a heart-wrenching masterpiece that could compete with even Bob Dylan's most powerful tracks.
In general, the producers committed whole-heartedly to the musical simplicity of the album — a decided risk in the age of synths. But there are moments when they strayed to the detriment of the album. For example, in "Beauty Sleep," there is a sudden and irritating Bon Iver-esque layering and reverb on Jamison's voice. In "True North," spoken lines by a female voice jar the listener from the magical daze induced by the rest of the album.
But for the most part, Jamison and his team have created an indie folk album that manages to be earnest in an age of cynicism, simple in a complex world, and meaningful in a time when music makers treat lyrics as an afterthought. It moves seamlessly from track to track, with Jamison's voice sliding between tender high notes and expansive lows, bringing the listener on a journey through the heart of modern American manhood.
Listen to Gloria Duplex here
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