❉ There’s an impressive versatility of tone and music through Jessica Lee Morgan’s fourth album.
Sometimes, the right title is almost too perfect: Jessica Lee Morgan’s Forthright is a perfect description of how she approaches her music and lyrics and well… it’s her fourth album.
Forthright is a return to original songs after Morgan’s third album reworked her first with the great benefit of experience. Morgan’s decision to release this new album despite the unexpected disruption brought by 2020 is a welcome one, as well as prescient given the continuing uncertainty. There’s a joy in listening to something released in 2020 that doesn’t remotely refer to the myriad situations weighing on everyone’s minds. That’s not to say it’s not rooted in life – quite the opposite, and it’s now refreshing to come to something which deals in lived experience without connecting it to grand narratives.
Packing Up opens the album: an excellent distillation of the tiring yet joyous existence of the travelling musician, the upbeat melody carrying the joy of live performance while the lyrics tell of the disorientation of a different bed each night – “every time I wake up, I don’t know what’s outside my window.”. There’s also the playful addition of a tour manager character, a humorous touch which ensures the song further avoids the trap of musicians writing songs from their hotel rooms. This isn’t the only time a character invades a song via backing vocals, and it’s a deft, confident touch which only strengthens the album. It’s an experience shared, insight rather than complaint.
Where Did It All Begin is another sharp capture of a more universal experience: this time of the weightless, addictive thrill of social media. Morgan’s dexterous lyric coupled with the restlessness of the music is more articulate than the thousands of words written about the pitfalls of being constantly online.
After that representation of the constant background hum of the modern world that circulates in all we far too online people, The Less Said The Better is a refreshing change of pace: a mellower folkier song tailor made for live performances – indeed, it’s apparently quickly become a live favourite.
There’s a continuing impressive versatility of tone and music through the album, with Morgan’s twin influences of folk and rock confidently blended. Although titles such as Heart of Stone and Under Your Spell might suggest an occasionally submissive attitude this is never the case = experience might be bruising, but Morgan’s clearly someone who knows what she wants throughout, best exemplified on the piano serenade We’ll Dance Through Life. You can almost imagine her singing it in a smoky, underground dive with a whisky to hand.
Penultimate song The Man is a tantalizing distillation of an encounter with someone from the television who’s perhaps not all his screen persona might promise – details such as his ‘sharp teeth’ like ‘the wielder of the knife’ and a tendency to keep a fairly low eye level in female company paints an unflattering portrait that leaves the listener searching for clues in the spirit of You’re So Vain. I’m still trying to work out which TV personalities with shark’s teeth come from Kent now…
The album’s lead single, Modern Day Girl, is probably Morgan’s statement song, a rousing take-no-shit finale adorned with some gorgeous backing vocals. It’s a personal declaration which marries her personality to the kind of music she clearly loves to make to great effect – the perfect way to round out another thoroughly enjoyable stay in Morgan’s company.
❉ A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Jon Arnold is the author of three volumes of the Black Archive series including ‘The Black Archive #1: Rose’.