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DARREN JESSEE / NATALIE JANE HILL
April 27 @ 8:00 pm
Central Bridge is a real place — a small hamlet in upstate New York with a population well under 1,000. But Darren Jessee didn’t have that tiny town, or any kind of physical structure, in mind when he chose Central Bridge as the title for his new album. The singer-songwriter had something far more intimate in mind.
“Central Bridge is looking for life after the pandemic, looking for connections and to be connected through the heart and not just through the mind,” Jessee says. “To really feel your connection with everything, whether it’s nature or other people.”
The songs on this new album — his third as a solo artist — seal those bonds by highlighting the small moments in life. Those seemingly tiny details that wind up leaving lasting impressions on a person or stirring up deep seated memories. A crumpled pack of cigarettes in the pocket of an old jacket. The freshly waxed floors of a supermarket. A pile of wet swimwear on the floor. The startling blue of a cloudless sky.
With that, there’s a generosity to what Jessee has achieved within his solo work, and especially on Central Bridge. He invites listeners into his unique artistic world, building the songs with humble instrumentation and plenty of open space to allow people to follow the threads within his plainspoken, yet elegiac lyrics. The nine tracks on Central Bridge are, as always, deeply personal to Jessee, but rife with a universality that should resonate deeply within anyone willing to spend some time with the album.
Some of the more beguiling qualities of the record come from its hushed, understated nature. Jessee wrote and recorded the bulk of it in his Durham, North Carolina home — a move that allowed him to take his time putting it together and gave a comforting aura to the finished songs. Adding to it is his vocal tone, which is far afield from his singing in Ben Folds Five, the alt-pop trio where Jessee’s talents were introduced to the world at large, and Hotel Lights, the indie rock group he fronted. On his solo work, Jessee dials his vocals down to a soothing purr that makes the ache and beauty of his lyrics that much more acute.
The material on Central Bridge was further fleshed out at Drop Of Sun Studios with the help of Alan Weatherhead, a long time associate who helped bring Jessee’s previous two solo albums, 2018’s The Jane Room 217 and 2020’s Remover, to life. He’s responsible for the keyboard parts throughout and, by mixing the LP, the rich, textured balance of sounds from Jessee’s languid vocals to the luscious sweep of a string section.
“We have a great chemistry,” Jessee says of Weatherhead. “We both have vinyl collections and we enjoy all the nuanced details of recordings. It’s like a band mentality, in a way, but it’s just two people. There are certain things we don’t even need to talk about anymore, and it’s really great for me just to play music.”
As a lifelong listener, Jessee understands as well as anyone the unique power of a song and an album. And he’s felt the effects when something strikes a chord within a worldwide audience after “Brick,” the song he co-wrote with Ben Folds, cracked the Top 20 in 1998 and pushed the album its on, Whatever and Ever Amen, to platinum sales.
Jessee knows what a rare thing that was and continues to be, but it hasn’t shifted his singular approach to songwriting one bit. He still creates music as a means to express something within himself that he’s sure will find that Central Bridge to his many fans and new listeners alike.
“I think of a ‘central bridge’ as both looking inward as well as looking at what we all have in common,” he says. “A bridge to the heart. An offering.”