This new album from Jodee Lewis, Buzzard’s Bluff is a cathartic release from deep within the Missouri Ozarks. It draws inspiration from growing up in a small town, the trials of faith, and a 19-year marriage with children. No journey is without its crosses, and the album emerges after years of self-reflection and struggle.
Lewis, who now lives in Chicago, grew up in Missouri, where a deep passion for music rang through her home at an early age. The sounds of Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris and Waylon Jennings became familiar chorus voices that influenced her own storytelling. “Buzzard’s Bluff” opens with a haunting chill that quickly becomes an anthemic march. With raw honesty, Lewis sings with a spine tingling melody that commands attention. The steady beat of drums intertwine with deep bass, energetic strings and a harmony filled chorus. The memory of the area still clings to Lewis as she states, “There were a number of things about my childhood that were tragic and unhappy, yet the Ozarks is deep in my bones and I still carry a great love for the area and its beauty, even after fleeing to Chicago almost 20 years ago.”
As an artist, Lewis has had to search deep within her spirit to deal with the unexpected turns of life. Dealing with personal loss is hard enough, but devastation can shake repressed memories loose and bring them to the surface. She explains, “My songs are more honest and they’re executed much better because I have my head on straight. I’m proud to share that with my friends and family who have supported me along the way.”
The as-mentioned sound of the title track, is indeed, based around minor chords and a certain dark vibe, but builds into taut old-fashioned dobro and fiddle runs that punctuate the verses and leads into the chorus; “Though The Flood May Rise” is a down-home country gospel piece with a neat shuffle and driven by banjo and fiddle and handclaps – which automatically makes me think of a tent revival meeting and “It Ain’t Killed Me Yet”, with its tongue-in-cheek title, is upbeat and bright and could easily find a place on country radio. “Start Again Tomorrow” is a traditional country ballad, with deliciously twangy guitar and warm harmonies; “A House That Was Never A Home” is the album’s standout – a slow number but exquisite in its execution and feeling and “Peace At Last” closes the collection out in very satisfying fashion with just vocals, guitar and intermittent strings.
While I like most of what I’ve heard, Ms. Lewis’ voice is the only distraction. At times, it’s almost too-childlike to be convincing of the passion and person pain that she’s poured into her songs. But a moment like “Peace At Last”, her voice fits the landscape. Overall, a very strong effort and I’d like to hear what she does next (although defining her as an “Americana” artist isn’t accurate – hers is a pure country sound which a great sense of understanding the traditional sound and style).
Buzzard’s Bluff is currently available