Albums, Music, The Revue — October 10, 2016 at 7:00 am

Jack River – “Highway Songs No.2”

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The question isn’t if but when Holly Rankin, the singer-songwriter behind Jack River, will become a star. Signed to Melbourne-based, super-indie label I OH YOU, the twenty-something artist had already captured the attention of music lovers along the Central and Gold Coasts of Australia. It is only now, however, that people are starting to pay attention.

While Rankin cites Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and The Beach Boys as some of her influences, her debut EP with I OH YOU, Highway Songs No. 2, is filled with songs that are cinematic and steeped in technicolor. Songs that are vibrant and gritty, infectious and crippling. As we had anticipated a couple of weeks ago, the record showcases Rankin’s complexities and versatility, proving that she indeed is the Swiss Army knife of music.

The lead single that introduced her to the world, “Talk Like That”, is urban in its nature, filled with analogue synths and a synth-pop / R&B vibe. But unlike similar songs within the genre, Rankin elevates this non-typical love song with her biting songwriting. As oppose of floundering over someone, she tells him to – in polite terms – get lost. Similarly, “Dream Girl” is upbeat and infectious, yet Rankin’s songwriting about what men imagine the perfect woman to be is clever and refreshing. She doesn’t sing about wanting to be a person’s “dream girl”, but in her own way questions why anyone would want to compromise themselves to fit another person’s image.

The EP’s highlight is the cinematic “Palo Alto”, which is an instant classic. The guitar-driven pop song is absolutely awesome with clean lines, infectious but warm melodies, and Rankin’s captivating vocals. Rankin’s storytelling is vivid and expressive, making us feel like we are sitting in the passenger seat as she drives us to Mexico. Why we are headed there is unknown, but the sense of adventure that percolates throughout the track has us enjoying the ride. In Rankin we trust.

The intimate “Head To The Stars” is the one song that radiates of Australia’s beaches. Rankin’s vocals are warm and delicate, and the melody is similarly embracing. Behind the beauty of the song, however, is the pain of a person with a broken heart. Rankin’s skill at juxtaposing music, melody, and lyrics is masterful.Her cover of Cigarettes After Sex’s classic song, “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby”, is likewise brilliant. Retaining the original’s lushness, Rankin adds a Sharon Van Etten-esque grittiness to heighten the song’s emotion and sorrow. It is a fantastic ending to the record, showcasing another stream in the consciousness of Jack River.

While the EP is varied musically and doesn’t have a single focus, Highway Songs No. 2 does reveal a young woman who can do it all. It offers a glimpse of her enormous potential as a singer, songwriter, musician, and artist. Where she lands next and what she chooses to concentrate her efforts will be interesting to watch. Whether it is pop, pop-rock, synth-pop, blues-rock, or back to acoustic surf-folk, there is no question that she will be a star.

Highway Songs No. 2 is out now via I OH YOU and Hopeless Utopian Records. Digital formats are only available to those in Australia and New Zealand on iTunes (AUS | NZ), but the rest of the world can stream it via Spotify.

Follow Jack River at: Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

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