Being “old school” can be either a compliment or a nasty putdown depending on who’s doing the talking. In the case of Jesse Baylin, the jersey girl turned Nashville singer/songwriter who is married to drummer Nathan Followill of the now-on-hiatus Kings of Leon, her new record Little Spark is a very savvy exercise in blending lots of obvious reference points, from Dusty Springfield to the classic girl groups of the 60’s, yet keeping the sound and attitude contemporary. With a sultry, ethereal delivery and an overall dreamy retro distinctness of Amy Winehousethough the similarities end thereBaylin’s latest Little Spark is a giant leap forward from her first two records. Give her credit, just as Winehouse brought in Sharon Jones and the Daptone crew to back her on Back To Black, Baylin here tapped such old hands as Waddy Wachtel, Jim Keltner, Greg Leisz to play on certain tracks and famed arranger Jimmie Haskell who worked on albums like Simon and Garfunkle’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters and Bobbi Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe to do strings and horns for several more. Haskell’s presence is immediately heard on the album’s one-two opening punch of “Hurry Hurry” and “Love is Wasted on Lovers,” which are two of, if not the two best, tunes Baylin’s ever co-written. Although she’s said in interviews that she didn’t want to make a retro record, there’s a sweet Brill building kind of vibe about this record that’s very appealing. And the collection of originals like the simple, lilting “I Feel That Too” is strong, though the record does begin to drift into tranquil sameness towards the end. But as far as creating your own artistic universe in the time it takes for 11 cuts to go by, to have a sound that’s consistent across the record and sticks in your head after it stopsBaylin’s spark is not little by any stretch.
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