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Jessica Pratt’s self-titled album echoes an era past

Kim Smith-Miller

Jessica Pratt's unassuming self-titled debut exists out of time. Which is to say it sounds like it blew in on a crisp autumnal breeze from 1970, back when unknown singer-songwriters were making albums that wouldn't be appreciated until decades later. In another era, "Jessica Pratt" would have been a long-lost classic well worth rediscovering.

Instead, as a living document that's already getting plenty of attention from the blogosphere, it's one of the year's more beguiling listens.

As Americana went particularly widescreen and exuberant in 2012 (think Mumford & Sons, the Lumineers), Pratt's home-recorded songs are quiet gems cradled in the rudimentary but delicate fingerpicking of her acoustic guitar. Aside from her voice — a quicksilver instrument she sometimes multitracks and harmonizes with — there's little to distract from the music except for the faint buzz of tape hiss.


The album brings to mind the homespun intimacy of Sibylle Baier's "Colour Green" and Karen Dalton's world-weary take on folk blues. Pratt, who's probably in her 20s and lives in San Francisco, has mentioned that she was heavily influenced by British folk musicians, and it shows. A gentle lament like the opening "Night Faces" summons the rainy-day melancholy of Sandy Denny: "You know I spent a million tears trying to dig myself out all these years."

On “Midnight Wheels,” she writes about that heartache we’ve all felt in the wee hours when our mind is racing when it should be dormant. “Those midnight wheels are turning all the time/  And the way they work is to wear me down/ Until you come back around/ Until you find another hand to drown.” (Out now) JAMES REED

ESSENTIAL "Midnight Wheels"