The release of onetime Tenderhooks frontman Jake Winstrom’s quirky and poignant, jangling retro-guitar and oldschool keyboard driven album Circles proves that timing is just about everything. Two years in the making, the dreamy, ethereal voiced pop/rock singer/songwriter/multi-guitarist’s follow-up to his solo debut Scared Away the Song needed just a few tiny overdubs when the COVID-19 lockdown hit.
A few weeks here or there, and we would have had to wait forever for this musically lighthearted, lyrically colorful and often incisive collection, which rolls mightily from the whimsical sparkle and chug of “Come To Texas She Said” (about a guy who REALLY doesn’t want to leave NYC for wide open spaces, no matter the romantic enticement) to “Kilimanjaro,” a fuzzy mid-tempo rocker celebrating way the eternal procrastination of slackers imparts ironic hope as well.
Gotta disagree with something Winstrom says about the opportunity to fill the dreary, anxiety ridden 2020 with the vibrant and explosive yet sometimes moody and contemplative magic he created with producer Jeff Bills (The V-Roys, Steve Earle) and a brilliant Knoxville based ensemble featuring Peggy Hambright (piano, keyboards, organ), Dave Nichols (bass) and Greg Horn (electric, acoustic, pedal steel guitars).
Acknowledging they were really fortunate, he says, “I mean, obviously, the world needs another rock and roll record like it needs a hole in the head right now.” Yeah, sure, he says he needed it for his own sanity, but, dude – what about ours? You help keep us sane (or at least, delightfully distracted and engaged in some fanciful emotional activity) by gracing us with your poetric wit and wisdom, crafty storytelling skills.
Though he wrote it some ten years ago not long after Tenderhooks split and probably meant it as a frolic, his snazzy, Springsteenesque “Think Too Hard” – a song about avoiding life’s harsh realities via escapist books, video games, alcohol, sports, TV, etc. - kinda sums up the disengagement from reality that perhaps got America to the sociopolitical insanity of 2020.
The real kick of the album is watching Winstrom flow so effortlessly from darkness to light and back again, as he does with the brooding addiction song “My Hiding Place,” followed by the hippie-era, brass fired joys of “What’s the Over Under” and “I Walk in Circles,” a gently lyrical , deeply reflective song about being frozen and fearful about taking that next step for fear of taking it on the chin. That last one is truly a tune we can relate to as we navigate the mire of every aspect of our lives in 2020. So, Jake, what was that you said about a hole in our heads?