Graded on a Curve: Jackie Lynn,
Jackie Lynn

The promotional synopsis for Jackie Lynn reads like the young Jim Jarmusch filming a screenplay by Barry Gifford. Gritty and lurid but tangibly stylish, Thrill Jockey’s blurb is a fictional construct; the straight scoop on the album is that it’s the latest from Haley Fohr, the distinctive singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist best known for a handful of recordings as Circuit des Yeux. This concise LP intriguingly and highly effectively spins off from her past achievements and underlines Fohr as a major artist. It’s out on vinyl and compact disc June 10.

In addition to Circuit des Yeux, Haley Fohr was once part of the duo Cromagnon, but given her desire to create a fictive yarn and then write and record this album around it, extensive background info (such as Cooper Crain and Dan Quinlivan of Bitchin’ Bajas reportedly lending their musical expertise) can seem somewhat superfluous.

The tale: the titular country girl (born in 1990 in Franklin, TN) hops a Greyhound bus for Chicago in 2010 and quickly meets up with Tom Strong (not his real name). Cocaine is dealt, money is made, and parties are thrown in an apartment on Sacramento and 26th street; the cops are on their trail, but without probable cause, they can’t make an arrest. Summoned to the apartment in February of 2015 in response to a domestic dispute, the fuzz finds it empty. A red and gold LP jacket was left behind; along with traces of cocaine, this recording was enclosed.

It’s a narrative that could’ve been banged out on a manual typewriter in a fleabag hotel by a down on his luck writer trying to procure a few bucks for bottles of booze by selling a manuscript to the pulp paperback market (the makings of another story, perhaps), and at just over 21 minutes, the length of Jackie Lynn can give the impression of a fleeting moment of inspiration captured in a studio and then grooved into vinyl; an impulsive act unlikely to be repeated.

However, the titles and lyrics do successfully, if loosely and efficiently, coalesce around Fohr’s invented scenario, making Jackie Lynn one of the shorter examples of the concept album; maybe it’s just me, but after giving the matter some thought it can seem like the autobiographically-based songwriting has become so commonplace that anything diverting too far from confessional mode is labeled as a “concept.”

A lingering generalization regarding concept albums relates to the form as a signifier of creative bloat, but as said Jackie Lynn is strikingly lean; eight tracks are listed but it really offers just six songs, with two serving as brief sonic bridges on an LP that consistently resists wedding expected musical form to content. Hand the above saga to a hack filmmaker and they will likely come up with a playlist of honky-tonk, some alt-country, and a little punk, but Fohr (whose Jackie Lynn promo pic shows the back and profile of a woman in a red cowboy hat, surgical mask, and knockoff Nudie suit) is above such triteness.

Opener “Bright Lights” establishes cheap electronic tech, its ambiance aptly described as archaic, and Fohr’s ever more appealing baritone vocals; as guitar enters her borderline operatic huskiness is contrasted with inflection appropriate to the track’s title. Although the electronics register as at least 30 years old, they avoid the stilted and add depth that will be utilized even more productively as the song’s unfold.

They infuse the fairly standard if engaging songwriting of “Chicken Picken” with a sorta BBC Radiophonic Workshop feel, the tune’s pop-country-folk foundation reverberating into weirdsville and ending with rousing canned applause. But with “Smile” Fohr sidesteps any forced eclecticism as she takes center stage with a vocal that’s simply captivating.

It’s like a performance one’d be lucky to witness in a barely lit late night underground cabaret deep in the guts of the mid-’70s (here goes another story), the programmed rhythm and synthesized baroque enhancing Fohr’s expertly calibrated vocal ache as the emotion peaks with an acerbic lyrical putdown: “I’m so sick of these jocks with their little tiny cocks.”

The electronic momentum of “Alien Love” is a bit more assertive, suggesting Fad Gadget, early Cabaret Voltaire, or Suicide, with the latter recalled during “Franklin, TN,” the cut formulating images of a Ford Administration-era collab between Martin Rev, Alan Vega, Patti Smith, and Lenny Kaye. The minute long “The Great Fight” follows and insinuates that something paranormal or extraterrestrial is transpiring before bleeding into the closing song.

“Jackie” connects as the most conventional of Fohr’s building blocks here, but ultimately suffers from no sense of anticlimax, instead concluding rather abruptly and securing this record as a winningly unique experience. After numerous listens to Jackie Lynn the counterpart that keeps rising to the surface is Terry Allen’s Juarez, no doubt because of its recent reissue but also due to legitimate links in atypical construction and admirable non-conformist spirit.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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