Oh, My Girl, the second album by singer/songwriter Jesse Sykes and her band the Sweet Hereafter – led by Phil Wandscher – picks up where her debut, Reckless Burning, left off. Songs are played at cough-syrup tempo, production is sparse, instrumentation equally so, offering just enough of a frame for the melody and lyrics to hang themselves on, and everything, absolutely everything, is underplayed. There is plenty of dynamic tension, but little to no dynamic range. Yes, this is a good thing. Sykes' ghostly voice, which hovers about her words more than inhabits them, has enough old-world folkiness, raw – if intentionally muted – willingness, and lonesome country pain in it to carry off these tunes with authority. Produced, mixed and engineered by multi-instrumentalist Tucker Martine, Oh, My Girl is full of slow, dipping passion, moody expressionism and poetic smarts to make it stand out in a sensual, narcotic way from the rest of the gothic alterna-twang pack. And one more thing: Sykes has more emotion in the grain of her halting, cracking voice than a whole army of Margo Timmins'es – so let the comparisons stop now, please.
Taking what talents they've garnered from previous bands such as Hominy and Whiskeytown, lead singer Jesse Sykes and guitarist Phil Wandscher are onto something far bigger than the two could have foreseen. The opening title track lends itself as much to Margo Timmins as it does to a latter-day Lucinda Williams à la "Lonely Girls" in its almost morose tempo and arrangements, making the nearly seven-minute song glide along effortlessly and, to the listener, far shorter. The following numbers offer the same barren sounds, evoking images of members recording the songs in a log cabin. The well-trodden but solidly produced tracks never waver, especially "Doralee" and the slightly upbeat, honky tonk of "Lonely Hill." Resembling a trace of Neil Young's "Harvest Moon," the tune discusses heartbreak over a cross between Appalachian music and traditional country twang. "Don't Let Me Go" is another fine gem that doesn't stray too far from Sykes' strong points.
Sykes's lyrical images are as vivid and amusing as ever on this 1960 set, with titles like "Set the Meat Outdoors" and "Hangover" among its standouts. Other than drummer Jump Jackson, the quartet behind the pianist is pretty obscure, but they rock his boogies with a vengeance. Contains a nice remake of his classic "Drivin' Wheel."