Eugene musician Caitlin Jemma wanted a vintage sound for her new album Love Notes, so she decided to record it at the OK Theatre in the Eastern Oregon town of Enterprise. The nearly 100-year-old hall is one of the oldest continuously operating purpose-built theaters in the country, and the old-time atmosphere definitely seeps into Jemma’s country-folk — a little soulful and a little swinging.
Yes, definitely swinging — but less like a Glenn Miller big band and more a like drowsy summer evening rocking gently back and forth on the front porch.
“I was impressed by the warm sound. Everything was live,” Jemma says, describing the experience of recording her all-original material on a decades-old stage.
The live-tracking gives her music the loose, off-the-cuff feeling of Dylan’s Basement Tapes. In fact, Jemma’s singing voice has many of Dylan’s idiosyncrasies and signature vocal tics. As well as Dylan, Jemma had other ’60s-era artists on her mind while making the record — artists like Van Morrison and The Band.
In some ways, Love Notes is familiar folk-rock territory that could at this point be called a little tired, but Jemma has enough thrust and swagger in her performance, and her band possesses enough beguiling insouciance, to save it from simply being a stylistic retread.
Instead, Love Notes is a breezy and charming treat. Album-track “XXOO” is an insurgent-country shit-kicker, complete with honky-tonk fiddle. “Nothing Left to Lose” has a Byrds-esque jingle jangle, and “How It Is” is full-on soul, with a humming Hammond organ breakdown while Jemma teaches an inconsistent lover a thing or two about her romantic rules of engagement. “It’s an album about love,” Jemma says.
Love Notes also marks the first time she’s worked with trumpet player Bart Budwig, who produced the record. The horn arrangements, Jemma says, “evolved my music into a country-soul style.”
And how does Jemma define country-soul? “Country music is digging a natural well,” she explains. “Soul makes me think of a cosmic sound.”
Jemma grew up in Nevada, coming to Eugene to attend the University of Oregon. She had performed in plays and written poetry her entire life, but started performing music relatively recently. Nevertheless, being on a stage comes naturally to her, and she’s the same person on stage as she is in everyday life — almost. “I don’t wear the same outfits,” Jemma jokes.
Jemma celebrates the release of Love Notes Friday, May 4, at Hi-Fi Music Hall Lounge, and she plans an album release show that’s also a costume party: fun, sparkly and themed around her concept of a “cosmic cowgirl,” a persona she takes to heart.
Jemma says the significance of the show’s landing on Star Wars Day — May the Fourth — is not lost on her. Love Notes can be previewed on Jemma’s website caitlinjemma.com, is available to stream on Bandcamp and will be available at shows on limited edition pink vinyl. ■