In these days of streaming, it probably doesn’t matter what the first track on an album is as the listener can decide what order they’ll listen to it. However, if you were to buy either the CD or vinyl version of ‘Early Winters’ the debut album from Seattle-based band Stellar Jays then you might be a little confused as the first track ‘1000 Miles’ is a rocky, alt-country track whilst the majority of the other nine tracks feature acoustic guitars, harmonica and sweet harmonies although they do return to their heavier, rock sound towards the end of the album.
The second track is ‘Great Unknown’ a loping track that has an almost pop feel at times with its harmonies and ringing guitar solo. This is followed by the title track ‘Early Winters’ which features some rootsy harmonica from and some fuzz-box guitar. Track four is ‘Ponderosa’ which has an almost cinematic, western feel, possibly with a nod towards the old TV series “Bonanza” (that’s one for the golden oldies!). The next track is another western-based title ‘Custer’s Last Stand’ that starts with some gentle acoustic guitar and has a Neil Young feel to it. This is followed by ‘Perfect Storm’ a rollicking song that features female backing vocals from Alison Perkins. Track seven ‘Weekend (Postscript)’ is a gentle track that once again features Perkins on backing vocals. On the next track ‘Long Way Home’. Perkins comes to the fore and sings beautifully on the gentle ballad. With the penultimate song, ‘Apathetic Blues’, the album is back to the rocky feel of the opener with heavy guitar and drums and bass high in the mix and an almost punk vibe. The album closes with ‘Scarecrow’ which starts with gentle acoustic guitar before heavy electric takes over and leads the listener to the end of the album – unless of course he or she is streaming in whatever order they choose and it’s not the end of the album after all!
The band who originally hail from places such as Virginia, Texas, Washington and California before ending up in Seattle, consists of Brian Siems (vocals and guitars) Brian Besand (vocals and guitars), Bob Congleton (bass) Alison Perkins (keyboards and vocals) and Tim Schuringa (drums) and the album was recorded and mixed at Earwig Studio in Seattle by Don Farwell (Foo Fighters, Ginger Baker Trio etc.) and at times has the grunge feel long associated with that city. All the songs have been written by Siems who’s an interesting lyricist. The songs are scattered with americana references such as cars, the great unknown, gold rush hills, cowboys, Lewis & Clark, gilded palaces of sin – you get the picture!
As well as writing some fascinating and evocative songs, Siems has an interesting somewhat world-weary voice that at times has echoes of Lou Reed and Geoff Tweedy although on one or two tracks, it’s a little bit lost in the mix.
‘Early Winters’ which incidentally has some wonderful cover art that cries out to be seen on the front of the vinyl version, is an excellent debut from Stellar Jays. Hopefully it’s just the first of many.