Jessica PlotkinLast Updated: 12/28/2006
Jessica Plotkin is one of the most unique talents born and bred in the Willamette Valley. (Corvallis, Oregon to be exact). A cantor, a violist, guitarist, and sophisticated composer, she is nothing less an innovator. While she currently works in the electronica scene with Portland's hugely praised Stalking Jane, she got there via the solo acoustic genres, looping her viola, voice and guitar into the mini-symphonic pieces found on her Involushun release Cain's Education.
When a songwriter makes this kind of record, stripped down to solo voice and guitar, she hopes to replicate the intimacy of her live show. The risk is that the album may turn out bland, its emotional impact diminished both by sonic monotony and the stifling burden of mistake-free performances. Jessica Plotkinís debut, "Milepost 13," is not mistake-free, but neither is it bland. It is a charming success.When Jessica sings, you can hear her smile. That is the essential difference between her and the bulk of young "folk" artists who seem to be striving too hard for deep meaning.When you first hear this record, youíll make the inevitable pigeon-holing comparisons: Tracy Chapman, Ani De Franco, et cetera. This is only natural when youíre listening to a woman outfitted with an acoustic guitar, a beautiful voice, and a lot to say. But thereís worse company than Ani and Tracy. And if your comparisons ended there, you wouldnít be listening very closely. You may want take for granted this budding twenty-year-old folk diva, and begrudge her the embellished sweet melodies and confessional poetry in "Dream Again" and "Out My Window." But the melodies are REALLY sweet and the poetry is gripping. So you canít help but listen further. Each of these 13 songs leaves you curious about the next. There are subtle, deceptive complexities all over the compositions. Her chord structures have Beatle-like sophistication, particularly in "Milepost 13" and "The Enchilada Song" (the chorus of which is sung in Japanese.) Catchy melodies suddenly erupt into spoken word. In "Back Home," over aggressive guitar rhythm, she raps a litany of "the enraged," climaxing into soft gorgeous lullaby. She even touches upon a ragtime feel in "Dead Today."Jessica, obviously moved by her own subject matter, delivers it as though she is just as surprised by it, and delighted, as her audience is. She sings with a classically trained voice--strong and expressive--without imposing classical stiltedness onto the material, soaring into falsetto, a la Jeff Buckley, or dropping to monotone. In "Drunken State," she eerily chants: "In this drunken state of silence/leave behind this world of violence/travel isolated islands.") Her lyrics often flow in stream-of-consciousness, like Virginia Woolf journals, yet her meanings are clear and unforced. In "Deli Meat Song" she sings laughingly about the female body-image problem: "Hush and hear/Thereís a lot of flesh here/Choking on its packaging year after year/Donít mind me if you find me in the street/Looking like deli-meat/Mixed up about whatís mixed up in me." I mention that Milepost 13 is not mistake-free. There are imperfections that a more rigid artist would smooth out. But, to the average ear, these lapses go unnoticed. They are edges left rough in deference to honesty and emotion.