Leslie Evers,
I Can't Remember My Dreams
(Cumulus, 2014)

All singer-songwriters are suspect, unless they prove themselves otherwise. Not every singer has to confine her repertoire to self-composed material, unless she proves herself special enough to get by with it. At least that's the way I, who have heard more singer-songwriters than any sane human ought, look at it.

Against my expectations, I Can't Remember My Dreams, which I assumed would be just another of what I think of simply as "those" (psychic shorthand for a whole lot of things dislikable in current music), is an able and distinctive recording. It's the debut album of a woman who -- so I infer from the return address on the package -- resides in California. Besides that, Leslie Evers appears to have lived enough to have something interesting to say. Further, she possesses a musical sophistication that allows her to draw appealingly, and at varying strengths, from strains of folk, jazz and pop. Though the production could not be sparer (between one and three stringed instruments, all acoustic), it draws on the talents, most prominently, of rooted guitarist Woody Mann, bluegrass musicians John Reischman and Kenny Kosek, and jazz bassist Rene Worst. Evers herself plays guitar and, here and there, banjo of the oldtime sort.

Finally and most importantly, Evers writes and sings intelligently and straightforwardly. There is nothing wordy or pretentious on one hand or dumb or mawkish on the other. Many of the songs deal with relationships, but from very much a grown-up perspective, which means that lessons have been learned even before the story begins. The moral, as I hear it, is that love's complications, being endless, just get more vexing the more one persists in the pursuit of romantic happiness. The songs express this understanding with more wit than self-pity, which makes a genuine heart-breaker, "No Dew on the Avenue," all the more affecting. "No Dew," by the way, sounds like a particularly compelling Tom Paxton number, in other words one that stays in memory long after competing songs have receded into psychic vapor.

On the whole, though, Evers doesn't call to mind any other artist in particular except, in the broadest sense, the late Jesse Winchester, who was able to fashion perfect folk-pop songs out of the most elemental materials, musical and emotional. "Folk singer" is not the characterization those who know the genre would conjure up on first hearing Evers, but clearly she has links to it. That connection grows more evident, in fact, the more one listens to the disc. Besides her association with respected roots pickers, the promotional sheet mentions well-known trad-folk figures Jody Stecher (her banjo teacher) and Ramblin' Jack Elliott (a fan). Set in rural Texas a century ago, moreover, the strikingly imagined "Last Call" has some of the resonance of an authentic frontier ballad.

Beyond that, "Little Bit Harder" and "Soft Place to Land" are impressively crafted and executed nightclub-jazz meditations. A more than ordinary talent, Evers seems in command of whatever she takes on. I Can't Remember My Dreams reminds us of the pleasures of good vocals and good writing, certainly, but also of classic American music itself.

music review by
Jerome Clark

27 September 2014

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