Having lived briefly in Savannah some years ago, I spent most of my free time there roaming the historic district, taking in the moss-dripping scenery of the squares and Forsyth Park. So I totally grasp just how veteran Twin Cities singer/songwriter Jeffrey Noller – dba and recording as Skittish now for 15 years - was seduced into writing the blend of airy reflective folk and blistering quirk-filled rock that populates his latest masterpiece Savannah Sessions when he jumped off the road in 2018 and went to grad school there for film sound.
While replacing dive bars with classrooms by day, he spent his after hours using the school’s studio to record tunes he had written since arriving in the “Hostess City of the South.’ Because he composed in a small apartment with thin walls, Noller’s initial focus was, in his words, “soft little acoustic songs I could whisper-sing to myself instead of doing homework.”
While there are a handful of high energy romps and rough, hard rocking edges – dig, for instance, the “Yer Blues”-esque guitar crunches interspersed throughout “Blue Daisies” – the emotional core are folky, easy strumming, vocal harmony laden gems like “Intro (Vert),” a thoughtful yet whimsical reflection on being okay with having parted ways with someone you’ve grown apart from, and the gentle dreamy stroll around “Savannah” that includes a reference to John Lennon (and perhaps the inspiration and comfort the legend could bring him).
Beyond these, Noller infuses the collection with infectious, freewheeling energy and compelling storytelling throughout, from the feisty, piano pounding existential romp “The Hole” and the lofty power-pop jam “Car Crash Companion” (a doomed relationship narrative told from the POV of an admittedly F’d up soul) to the majestic New Orleans pop rocker “Hello Deadly,” about a mysterious NOLA serial killer of a century ago. Noller explores another aspect of his Southern environs with “Before the Devil Knows,” a swampy ballad turned classically-tinged rocker about the dilemma of doing the right thing when you know the ill consequences that await.
Epitomizing the random encounters with local musicians who he invited to work on the project, this tune features the stunning violin harmonies of a busker Noller met in Forsyth Park. One last gem: the final track “Beautiful in Black,” a performed as a beautiful acapella piece with gorgeous stacked vocals that finds oddly poetic angles to address the anxieties of a loved one. Come to think of it, on that grand, stripped down finale, Noller as Skittish seems to be speaking to and for us all.