Jeremy Squires “Poem” (Independent, 2019)

North Carolina’s Jeremy Squires has been battling his personal demons for the past few years by writing songs – they’ve helped him to overcome depression and anxiety. His previous releases, including 2017’s ‘Collapse’, have recounted his struggle with mental health issues, and his latest, ‘Poem’, which is his fifth album, also isn’t afraid to deal with the darker side of life.

After the wrong-footing, instrumental opener, ‘What Could I Say?’ which, with its stately piano and strings, sounds like it comes from the soundtrack of a Hollywood film, or a TV drama, we’re then into more familiar Americana and folk territory with ‘Somersault’ – over sparse and delicate guitar strumming, a fragile-voiced Squires sings about the medication he’s been prescribed: “Risperdal and Depakote – keeping the levels low, when lithium can’t calm me down…  Fix that anxiety with Xanax…” Considering the subject matter, it’s a gorgeous song – hushed and intimate and, ultimately, hopeful: “You’re the brightest star in the sky – you’re the only one for me,” says Squires, to a person he loves who’s helping him get through it all.

‘Orchid’ and ‘Heaven’ are equally as moving, thanks to their elegant orchestral arrangements, while ‘If We Stay’ is an irresistible, mid-paced, country-rock song, drenched in pedal steel.  ‘Fragments’ is one of the album’s best moments – an atmospheric tale which recalls a late-night drive in the backwoods (“I could see the lights of town through the branches”). The music is cinematic and otherworldly, with spidery guitar, twinkly keyboard sounds and jazz-like percussion.

‘Poem’ is steeped in the Southern Gothic folk tradition- on ‘These Nights’, Squires is being kept awake by “the thunder in my head” and a slithering demon in his bed, with “rattle snake eyes”. In the same song, he warns us: “there’s an angel on my shoulder and the devil’s on the other side – he tells me I’m going to die before my time…” 

Listen to this record alone, very late at night, when you’re being kept awake by your thoughts, and it will be the perfect accompaniment. It’s moody and, at times, overwrought and heavy going, but it’s also bewitching and often truly beautiful – like a shaft of light creeping in through the darkness. As Squires sings on ‘Orchid’: “I can see a place that’s brighter than the day…”

A beautiful and haunting album - modern, Southern Gothic folk
7/10

Author: Sean Hannam

Freelance journalist, editor and presenter. Digs retro specs,The Smiths,Dylan,Cash,Richard Hawley, Scott Walker, Lee Hazlewood, country / Americana and '50s/'60s pop.

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