Sam Jayne – The Super “Natural” Sessions

3 out of 5

Label: Luckyhorse Industries

Produced by: Miguel Mendez (recorded by)

The test of a singer-songwriter, I suppose, is stripping things down to the barest minimum: in Sam Jayne’s case, a voice and guitar. As Love as Laughter – Sam’s long-running band – is often fueled on a good riff and a sly lyric, it seems like we’ll be getting a good shake of solid material from a solo outing, as long as the man brings his energy and emotion along.

And surely, the Super “Natural” Sessions (I think named as such because there’s a self-released version of this with fewer track called the ‘Natural Sessions’) brings all of that along: stick-in-yer-head melodies, some great snark, some home-spun thoughts, and passion. But there are things that can certainly help make the stripped down formula work when it’s presented at length. Some of that might be considered cheating – layering in some vocals – but some of it is more about determining your audience: whether you’re offering up an album, or whether this is supposed to be demos / ideas, collected for convenience.

Yeah, there’s some tricksy sequencing here, which puts our most upbeat, riffy, and vocal-layered tracks right up front, and these are some of Jayne’s greatest tracks ever. These danged songs get consistent replay from me, and when I have a song I’ve identified as LaL’s stuck in my head, often it’s actually one of these. (For the record, I guess I can’t say for sure that there’s another layer of vocals – this is all very single-numbered tracked stuff – but there’s a fullness to Sam’s singing on the openers that isn’t present elsewhere.)

Thereafter, things get much more raw, and sparse, and – generally – slow. ‘Icarus’ has the benefit of sounding rather epically somber thanks to some minimal drumming and heavy reverb; as a coda to the faster-paced tracks, it’s incredibly effective. Followup ‘freestyle’ is as it sounds, and merits more of a chuckle from when a string breaks and Sam (presumably) makes up some lyrics to tell that tale. This is an uneven step to the more bare work that follows. These are good songs still, but it’s a lineup of a couple of longer tracks (5:30, 6 minutes), some covers, and a somewhat pointless, minute-long, non-music interlude, and then a quiet closer. A good indication of how this stuff can work in isolation – and I do recommend just putting on a track every now and then, on its own, because they’re quite powerful – is track 6’s Cleaning Man: it’s somewhat unremarkable here, but it was later redone on Holy as a closer to a poppier album, and was really effective there.

I do think any LaL fan should have this in their collection, as we’re always in desperate need of more Sam Jayne jams in these often Sam Jayne-less times. However, as an album, it’s unfortunately pretty uneven, slanted towards some grabbing opening tracks.