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Jaime Wyatt - Neon Cross Music Album Reviews

The country singer was “raised on heartache,” but her latest album is a triumphant testament to the way that Wyatt has outpaced her demons.

The last time we heard from Jaime Wyatt, she was at the start of a bad spiral. Covering Merle Haggard’s “Misery and Gin” at the end of her 2017 debut Felony Blues, the Nashville country singer succumbed to her loneliest thoughts, “sitting with all my friends and talking to myself.” Now, she’s all but abandoned. Her latest album, Neon Cross, begins with the slowest of slow burns: a lush, stately piano ballad called “Sweet Mess.” Even more than its hopeless lyrics or gentle rainfall of piano and pedal steel, you’re left hanging onto her voice—a smoky, one-of-a-kind instrument. Just from a few notes, you might imagine it echoing from the darkest corner of a bar, from someone with a troubled past and a long, sad story to tell. And you would be right.
Raised in rural Washington, Jaime Wyatt headed to California as a teenager with the hopes of breaking into the music industry. Instead, she found herself in personal and professional hell. She turned to hard drugs and, at 21, was arrested for robbing her heroin dealer. After serving eight months in jail and getting clean, her marriage fell apart; she relapsed after the death of her father and several of her closest friends. Some of these experiences, soundtracked by boozy, swaggering outlaw country, made their way onto Felony Blues, a tight, seven-song introduction that confirmed her as one of the genre’s most exciting and skillful storytellers. But “Sweet Mess” is her first song that suggests a darkness from which she can’t escape. It is beautiful, enveloping, and totally bleak.
It is also an outlier. For the most part, Neon Cross is another triumphant record that speaks to the ways in which Wyatt has overcome these situations. She wrote most of its songs after recovering from addiction and coming out as gay: “I lost years of my life being in the closet and living a lie and trying to be someone else,” she explained. “I just can’t do it anymore.” The title track immediately feels like her defining song. Over a galloping rhythm and jangling acoustic guitars, she allows for winking, momentary self-pity: “So sad, goddamn/I’m wearing some pitiful perfume.” But the way she sings it, it seems more like a rallying cry, an effort to turn the car around and make the most of the night. A refrain of “Oh, poor me!” has never seemed so hopeful.

The rest of the songs follow suit, searching for silver linings, or at the very least, a good punchline. She recorded the album with fellow outlaw revivalist Shooter Jennings, who expands on the old-school blueprint of Felony Blues to match these songs’ wide-ranging emotions. You can sense the pair digging through their record collections to find just the right texture. A brief twinkle of keyboard at the end of “Just a Woman”—a duet with Jennings’ mother, country legend Jessi Colter—sounds straight out of an ’80s jukebox classic, while the ghostly fiddle and pedal steel in her rendition of Dax Riggs’ “Demon Tied to a Chair in My Brain” make it sound more like an unearthed Carter Family standard. There is a cumulative feeling to the music, like Wyatt is placing herself within a deep history of folk wisdom.

While Neon Cross highlights the versatility of Wyatt’s gorgeous, commanding voice, she finds her comfort zone in singalong anthems like “Goodbye Queen.” It’s got a sunny, windows-down charm that feels perfectly suited to the timeless grain of her singing. She mines similar territory in “Make Something Outta Me,” a callback to her last record’s more overtly autobiographical material. This time around, she embellishes her past with self-effacing humor as she zooms through her last 15 years, cracking jokes about her regrets, her online dating profile, and her fatalist tendencies. “I was raised on heartache,” she sings, “So I like to suffer slow.” It’s a clever lyric that should ring true for anyone who, like her, gravitates toward sad songs with dark, inevitable endings. But Wyatt wants you to know that’s not how she sees herself. On Neon Cross, her story is just beginning.

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