Listening to the gentle, sparsely arranged, slowly intoxicating songs on Darren Jessee’s homegrown acoustic dream-pop album The Jane Room, it’s wondrously clear that this singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (piano, guitar, drums, who knows what else!) has always been a solo troubadour at heart.
All it took to make his dream a reality during his several decades of success vibing with other prominent bands was reaching back to his childhood listening to Willie Nelson, Leonard Cohen and early Tom Waits. He also needed some quiet spaces away from his many other commitments, including being a founding member and drummer of Ben Folds Five for 20 years and also skinning for Hiss Golden Messenger and Sharon Van Etten.
He’s been teasing us for a long time, releasing his own music successfully under the band name Hotel Lights – and his new vibe strips away the rock edges for a warmer, more subtle but no less soul-intensive sense of expression. Leaping away from the kit, Jessee began writing and recording the deeply felt, introspective and quietly devastating tunes that would become the album on a six-track in his NYC apartment.
Aside from his lead vocal modulations – he’s whispery sometimes, all pin-drop falsetto magic at others – and hypnotic piano and guitar accompaniment, The Jane Room 2017 soars on the symphonic caress of strings created by Trey Pollard of the Spacebomb Records group. The heartbreaking loneliness in the aftermath of love has never been expressed more beautifully than on “Letting You Go,” in which Jessee uses both vocal approaches to share a tale where he can rhyme “trying” (as in difficult), “dying” and “lying.” It’s sad but also somehow uplifting and life affirming, with Pollard’s strings becoming as much a part of the narrative as Paul Buckmaster’s were back in the day on those early Elton John albums.
We may not yet be privy to the mystery of why Jessee named the album after a specific room at NYC’s boutique Jane Hotel, but I suspect it will be worth following this troubadour’s inspiring ongoing musical travels to find out.