Jes Perry’s songs travel across a range of subjects: romance, lust, friendship, jealousy. The emotional terrain changes but the music—and Perry’s powerful voice—always soars. Whether the characters in Perry’s songs are celebrating love or confronting obsession, there are moments when the melodies take unexpected turns, arrangements build to memorable peaks, and voices and instruments harmonize in ways that make her first-person narratives seem to speak for us all.
All of that is in evidence on Perry’s second release, The Way That I Feel. The album’s eleven original tunes showcase a mature singer/songwriter, armed with confessional and inventive lyrics and a collection of versatile musicians able to go wherever her songs go, whether it’s 1970s-steeped folk-rock, edgy pop, or straight-ahead jazz.
“Driving That Train,” the new album’s leadoff track, features elements that many of these songs share: a propulsive groove, a melody that lingers in the mind, straight-shooting lyrics, a searing guitar solo, and a vocal performance that moves seamlessly from a whisper to a growl. It’s four minutes of pure and original rock-n-roll.
Perry reveals a gentler side on “I Never Said,” a love song that doesn’t shy away from the realities and challenges of adult relationships. Guitarist Steve Fekete (Avril Lavigne, David Archuleta, Bleu) sings a vocal duet with Perry, adding to the multilayered vocals highlighting this and other songs on The Way That I Feel.
You can’t help but think of islands and soft breezes in the sounds of “Valerie,” a song lyrically about loss, but that musically undulates on a calypso-like rhythm and intertwining saxophones. Perry shifts gears from the lightness and warmth of that song with “Toronto,” a ballad with a melancholic beauty, an angelic Perry vocal, and contemplative instrumentation that combine to create a feeling one gets when looking out over a snowy field on a clear, starry night.
Perry compositions like “Crush,” “Make Believe,” and “Earthbound” are well-crafted modern pop/rock tunes that would fit easily in a play list alongside artists like Aimee Mann, Crowded House, Patty Griffin, Sheryl Crow, and the Pretenders. And even hard-core jazz fans will find tunes to like, particularly the title track— the most straightforward love song on the album. In addition to a stunning Perry vocal, it features pianist Scott de Ogburn (Tony Bennett, Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole) and trumpeter Jeff Perry, also a talented composer, bassist, and, yes, the husband of Jes Perry.
The Way That I Feel is the culmination of a music-filled life; Perry has been singing since the age of 3, and before she hit her teens, was sneaking albums out of her older sisters’ bedrooms and mastering harmonies by singing along with groups like the Beatles; the Eagles; Crosby, Stills, and Nash; Heart; Fleetwood Mac; and other groups from the 1960s and ‘70s. The Connecticut native has a Bachelor of Music from Berklee College of Music, was a scholarship student at the Hartt School of Music, and earned a BFA from University of Connecticut, where she studied classical vocal performance. She also has years of experience spotting musical talent, having worked in Admissions offices at Berklee and New England Conservatory. Perry played keyboards and sang background vocals in the band World Gone Crazy, which performed on the Boston club scene in the early 1990s. In the late 1990s, Perry began a busy period of songwriting and jamming and playing open mic shows, leading to the release of her first album, Clearing My Head, in 2002.
Perry invited a host of friends and collaborators to help create the accessible and layered sound of The Way That I Feel. Steve Fekete, a former Boston-based bandmate, flew in from Los Angeles to provide an endless array of blistering guitar parts. He made time for recording sessions prior to going on international tours with Avril Lavigne and American Idol runner-up David Archuleta. Multi-instrumentalist Jeff Perry—who performed in the award-winning blues band, The Movers, and has released several jazz recordings as a bandleader—not only played bass on every track, he also was the disc’s executive producer. In addition to the aforementioned de Ogburn, The Way That I Feel features a host of other accomplished musicians, including drummer Mike Stavitz (Maria DeMaio); vocalist Jenn Oberle (bassist with Randy Coleman and Into the Presence); saxophonist Bob Brenner (owner of Music Maker Studios); and Adam Nazro (drummer in SteelRhythm). The album’s engineer and co-producer, Mike Caglianone, owner of 7A West Studio, has recorded more than 750 projects and worked with artists from Elektra Records and several other labels. Also a reedman who has played with Branford Marsalis, Chet Baker, and others, he played saxella on the recording.
For an artist who didn’t start her solo career until her 30s, Jes Perry has created extraordinary music in a short period of time. The Way That I Feel is a layered recording that reveals an artist bursting with rich musical ideas, and the musical chops to manifest those ideas into great songs that will stay with you long after you hear it.