Jake Winstrom’s Circles opens with the quirky Beatles-esque track “Come to Texas She Said” and the nasal tilt to Winstrom’s voice does nothing to undermine its pop credibility. The second solo album from Tennessee born Winstrom begins with a first-person point of view driving the songwriting and this device will continue to find footing throughout the release. You expect progress from a songwriter working in the public eye since his early twenties and tracks such as “Come to Texas She Said” supplies that. Now almost forty years old, Winstrom’s album Circles sees him moving further away from arrangements lacking even a hint of daylight towards a more freewheeling and relaxed style inviting a more intimate tone to define his art. “Come to Texas She Said” has some especially potent pedal steel and organ lines that stick in your memory.
Winstrom’s tenor voice is effective once again paired with the slightly hypnotic qualities heard during “Think Too Hard”. It is moving in a different direction than the opener, but Winstrom’s lyrical aplomb stands out despite the shift in imagery and imaginative landscape. Jeff Bills’ drumming on the cut gives “Think Too Hard” a sense of urgency and the percussive velocity of his words complements the tempo well. “My Hiding Place” begins with some musical scene setting before the arrangement fills out in earnest. It has a more moderate tempo than either of the first two tracks and shows Winstrom has the skill to maximize a song’s dramatic potential. It has a dark bent absent from the first two cuts, but never goes overboard with its melancholy.
He mutes the edges we hear in the aforementioned tracks for the song “I Walk in Circles”. Bills stands out on drums again. Andy Bryenton’s cello playing doesn’t carry the number far into quasi-classical territory but, instead, gives “I Walk in Circles” a lyrical bent missing earlier in the album. The melodic strengths powering “I Walk in Circles” is a highlight on the release. Organ is an important factor in what makes “Loose Change” work, but the bittersweet mood pervading the lyrics sets it apart as well. It’s a love song brimming with discontent and heartache that each line handles in artful fashion. The interspersing of terse minimalist verses with a full-blown indie rock chorus that rates among the album’s best makes “Washed My Face in a Truck Stop Mirror” one of Circles’ high points.
The raw six-string ramble pushing “Kilimanjaro” towards its inevitable conclusion is another winner. It makes for an excellent conclusion to this album without ever straining for effect and illustrates, yet again in Winstrom’s career, how his nasal but ingratiating voice meshes well with rugged distorted guitars. The literary reference will be inescapable for some recalling Hemingway’s short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”. This isn’t a histrionic indie rock riff workout, however, and the same songwriting excellence defining earlier moments crackles here as well. Circles further burnishes Winstrom’s reputation as a first-class songwriter and his ability to stretch and reshape his sound as the years unfurl is one of the keys to his ongoing success. We should expect this impressive run to continue for years to come.
by Skyler Voss