Hailing from Los Angeles, Jess Wayne is a singer-songwriter who mixes together several styles such as folk, jazz, and blues as well as taking influence from musicians like Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison and Bon Iver. In June, he released his debut album “Ride The River” with producer John Matthew Rosenberg, who also provides piano, keyboards and backing vocals for the album.
“Taken You Home Last Night” is the opening track. It kicks off with a clean electric guitar that’s soon joined by lap steel, bass, and keys. The different textures used here work really well, Wayne’s songwriting has an old school feel to it but there’s something distinctly modern about the instrumentation and production.
The second song, “Better Get Used To It” is dominated the chords played on the keyboard and the groovy bassline. There’s a definite Steely Dan influence, with the bluesy licks, lyrical style, and melodic chorus all being quite reminiscent of something by fusion masterminds Donald Fagen and Walter Becker.
“Hold On” is a slow, laid back tune about difficulties in relationships. It’s a very nice song, but I can’t say I’m a fan of the call and response section of the chorus. The lead guitar licks in the verses are very tasty and the solo is even better.
The seventh track, “Why Don’t You Lie To Me”, opens with a piano chord and a simple bassline. The song is one of the softer tunes on the album, with the piano being the instrument that takes centre stage. The female backing vocals for the chorus are a really nice touch too.
The album turns a bit more melancholy with the inclusion of “Garden Song”, with fingerpicked acoustic guitars and dreary piano lines. About halfway through, Wayne kicks things up a notch, giving a really good vocal delivery before an extended instrumental section breaks out.
The final track is “All I Can Do For Now”, which is another softer number with an Americana feel. The shuffle beat and walking bassline work really well to establish a good groove to the song. Where this song and to a degree the rest of the album falls flat, is in the lyrics. Oftentimes they come across as tacky and cheesy, lacking the depth that would give them some real meaning and unfortunately falling short of the mark.
“Ride The River” is a good collection of songs. Musically it’s a great mix of Americana and folk with a hint of blues in there too. If it was to be put under any label, easy listening or adult contemporary might be the most suited label for these songs. Despite being somewhat let down at times by the lyrical content, it’s definitely an album worth checking out if you’re looking for something to relax to.