As the former vocalist for Denver indie-folk heavyweights Paper Bird, you’d expect Esmé Patterson to produce something suitably retro for her third solo release. And you’d be right. ‘We Were Wild’ is a swirling saccharine soup of sixties pop, noughties anti-folk and Hollywood country. In short, it doesn’t sound anything like 2016.
Where 2014’s ‘Woman To Woman’ embraced easy-listening roadside-diner country music, for ‘We Were Wild’ Patterson has ripped pages from right across the American songbook. Turbo-charged opener ‘Feel Right’ snatches your attention with surging drums and police-siren guitars, before breaking into a bop ‘n’ roll twist track with Regina Spektor vocals. A singable mix of The Dead Kennedys and Martha and The Vandellas, and it only gets more cross-bred from there.
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The 60s backbone runs through whole record, treading the same soft-soul-revival path as Lake Street Dive or The Lone Bellow. ‘No River’ and ‘Come See Me’ team that Motown danceability with snappy bebop leanings. These tracks wouldn’t be out of place on a milk bar jukebox with a gang of groomed Greasers dancing the mashed potato. Then later in the record, Patterson’s soft-country influences rear their stetson-wearing heads. ‘Wantin Ain’t Gettin’ is an echoy ode to the old-time heart-breakers of Tammy Wynette, whilst tender gem ‘Guadalupe’ could be a little-known lullaby from an Elvis Presley picture. There’s psychedelia in there too, in the airy tones of ‘Francine’, and even a sniff of garage rock in the swampy guitars of ‘The Waves’.
That said, what ‘We Were Wild’ lacks is sharp focus. With its running concept of giving voice to the muses of music (Jolene, Eleanor Rigby, Lola), ‘Woman To Woman’ was like a well-constructed fortress, and the theme gave Patterson a hook to hang her lyrics on. ‘We Were Wild’, for all its far-flung influences, lacks that anchor. The lyrics are functional, and occasionally poetic, but like the 60s pop they emulate they’re too often just scaffolding. But there’s no shame in coming second best.
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2016 has been a gloomy year, in both the fangs it’s bared and the music it’s made. The likes of Nick Cave’s ‘Skeleton Tree’ or David Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’ give a taste of the year’s lachrymose soundscape. This, crucially, is where ‘We Were Wild’ truly bucks the trend. It’s unabashedly, unashamedly upbeat. Even the country heart-breakers have positive spins. They’re love letters to tropes, not soul-bearing confessions. Perhaps in one final ode to the civil rights-era artists she’s embraced, in a year filled with street protests Esmé Patterson has given us music for dancing in the street.