Jessica Dennison + Jones | Jessica Dennison + Jones | PDX-016 (March 3rd, 2017)
There is something indefinably timeless about Jessica Dennison + Jones’ self-titled debut. It’s not the result of some quaint recording process or of precious, sepia-toned songwriting, but a quality that lies outside of the album’s minimal grooves, layered vocals, and contemplative, naturalistic lyrics. Perhaps what is timeless about Jessica Dennison + Jones comes from the connection between two friends (both, serendipitously, named Jessica) who have been playing music together for over a decade and who have finally found their perfect place. It’s a creative destination that most bands never find, let alone on their first albums—a place where vision and vulnerability are in perfect balance, and where the Jessicas’ creative bond results in songs so deeply personal and mysterious that we as listeners can’t help but assign our own stories to them.
Not that the Jessicas themselves are a total mystery: Jessica Dennison hails from Northern Illinois, and Jessica Jones from Alabama. The two met in college in Portland in the early 2000s where they picked up the habit of calling each other by their last names. Later, while Jones was living in Memphis, Dennison went down for a couple long visits, bringing with her the songs she’d written or was working on. Soon the two were hunkering down, recording Dennison’s music with the added element of Jones’ lead guitar. The result is a cross-pollination of Jones’s classic influences (including guitarists like Rosetta Tharpe, Steve Cropper, and Mother Maybelle Carter) and Dennison’s refreshingly unique and inward-looking lyrical approach.
By 2013, both Jessicas had found themselves back in Portland, where they began developing a meticulous process of arranging and recording the songs—a process they describe as involving a lot of conversation not just about musical choices but about life, inner work, and the joy and pain that inspired the songs. These conversations grew to include producer Randy Bemrose (Radiation City, Because) and a small circle of collaborators, including guest musicians Joe Jiang (The Slants) and Fields Falcone, as well as mixing engineer Matt LeMay (Junior League, White Hinterland).
Minimal opener, “Heavy Flower,” uses natural imagery to question the value of living an artistic life and wrestle with what it means to be seen (or not seen) by others. “Dark Jewel” deals with the endless preoccupation of developing worldly outer shells, often to the exclusion of nurturing inner situations. “White Oak Trees,” the album’s closer, is a reflection on hindsight, remorse, love and lessons learned.
“Writing and recording this album was a way of giving my songwriting a place to live after a long period of keeping it to myself,” Dennison says. But even in letting Jessica Dennison + Jones loose in the real world, it’s an enigmatic and personal enough effort to sound more like a secret kept than a secret told. And kept secrets are, by definition, timeless.
Jessica Dennison + Jones are joined in their live performances by friends including Randy Bemrose on drums, and bassists Joe Jiang and Zach Domer (Ohioan, Castanets). Look for them playing throughout the Pacific Northwest this year.