Albums, Music, The Revue — June 27, 2018 at 5:10 am

Jesse Jo Stark – ‘Dandelion’ (EP review)

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Jesse Jo Stark‘s life since her infancy. Her parents are the founders of high-end fashion and furniture brand Chrome Hearts, whose clients included bands like the Sex Pistols and Hollywood film studios. Her godmother is none other than Cher, and she grew up in a household where music was as much a part of the family’s life as were costume designs. As she commented to Interview Magazine last year, her parents introduced her to country and rock at an early age, although in her youth she preferred (or rebelled with) the pop of Christina Aguilera. Despite having celebrated parents and access to music giants, Stark has adopted her parents’ entrepreneurial spirit. She’s not relying on them to drive her success, nor is she looking to them for favors. She is instead taking control, which she’s been doing since she was designing clothes at the age of six.

For the past 18 months, Stark has focused on her solo musical project (although she still designs clothes). In that time, she’s gradually released a handful of songs, including the gorgeous “Driftwood” and the femme-fatale anthem, “Deadly Doll”. Her sultry vocals combined with her diversity musical tastes made her an Artist to Watch in 2018, and last week she dropped her long-awaited debut EP, Dandelion.

Like the music that filled her childhood home, Dandelion is a wide-ranging musical journey. At one moment, it rages with the angst of rebellious teen. Another moment, it is a tender, lonely serenade. The record, as such, is not so much a nod to her influences but a demonstration of Stark’s complexity and vast talents. Opener, “Dandelion” offers an immediate surprise. Dreamy, lush, and breathtaking, the track bridges ’60s-era country-folk with the ethereal haze of Mazzy Star. Stark’s vocals approach the heavenly levels of Hope Sandoval, soaring above the stunning orchestration that features a tantalizing steel guitar and piercing organ. As she softly bellows, “I’m never going to let you go”, a moment of weakness might overcome you.

A playful ’50s doo-wop vibe percolates on “Breakfast With Lou”, which is a clever take on Breakfast at Tiffany’s. However, the Lou in this case might refer to Lou Reed given the reference to Coney Island and the twangy guitar strums. Then again, maybe it’s Lou Albano. The closer, “Monster Man”, similarly sees Stark channel the past for inspiration. The track is also born out of the ’50s, but this time folk-rock is the focus. Stark’s voice is stirring yet vulnerable while her story is the alternative ending to Guillermo del Toro’s Academy Award-winning film, The Shape of Water. There’s no happy ending in this tale, but there is one final night together. As Stark sings in her spellbinding way:

“Holding me close, closer my dear.
In our sweet little nightmare.
In bed with the moon’s glow
That’s when you’ll know,
This is the last time you’ll ever see me again,
My monster man.”

On “Love Is In The Air”, Stark cuts loose and her teenage and early 20s rock star emerges. Her voice remains lush, but the instrumentation is edgier, darker, and more energetic à la The Runaways. Akin to the legendary all-female rock band, she delivers an anthem for today’s world and how love will conquer all.

She compounds the energy with the blistering “Chelsea Hotel”, which is an old-school rocker straight out of the late ’70s and early ’80s when The Bangles and The Go-Gos topped the charts. Her lyrics, though, are Cohen-esque, as she pays tribute to the once legendary New York City hotel that was a favorite haunt of many artists and musicians of many stripes. For some, as Stark sings, they unfortunately “found God”. But for us, we celebrate a young singer-songwriter who has officially arrived with her debut EP. It’s a record that a veteran musician would produce after nearly two decades in the business and is willing to branch out. For Stark, though, Dandelion‘s diversity demonstrates her complexity as an artist and her broad talents. She is a talent that cannot nor will not be pigeonholed. An artist who one day will have songs written about her.

Purchase and streaming links for Dandelion are available here. Her debut full-length album is expected later this year or early 2019.

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