Artist: Erisy Watt
Album: Paints in the Sky
Release date: July 26, 2019
The deal. I’m always impressed by artists who can convey different states of mind. Giulia Millanta did a fantastic job conjuring different moods from song to song on her 2018 Conversations with a Ghost (my review is here). The world-creation achieved by Erisy Watt on Paints in the Sky similarly grabbed me, and while this album isn’t the type of music I reflexively gravitate toward, Watt’s amalgamation of seemingly lost Appalachian music and cocktail jazz have made her debut album tough to stop playing.
The album has charming instrumentation and enjoyable songs, but it’s all driven by Watt’s voice, which is pretty but also straightforward. One doesn’t feel like she’s trying to dazzle so much as she’s communicating directly, but also beautifully. The songs are subtle and work well in the background of daily tasks, which is not meant pejoratively. It’s more a tribute to the gentleness of her tracks and how well they fit in with the rhythms of daily life.
One of the notes I jotted down about Watt’s album is that it’s warm, like meeting a kind stranger at a bar and having a pleasant chat over drinks. Of course, given my current situation with a 14-month-old daughter, a better comparison might be meeting a nice parent at the swings and having a good-yet-temporary chat over swing-pushing. Both scenarios are rooted in serendipity and comfort, as is Paints in the Sky.
The album is also brilliantly sequenced. It begins with “Am I,” the aforementioned Appalachian-inspired song, haunting violin cutting through the track while Watt’s voice glides stoically through the song, the whole piece sounding like it began in the previous century and is just reaching our ears now. From there, Watt goes into “Treasure Maps,” this song a little poppier, but also featuring some wonderful, country-inspired fiddle. And then, Watt changes the vibe again, going into “Cypress,” which is urbane piano jazz. Three songs. Three very different styles. All of it linked by Watt’s voice, which feels rooted in sincerity. She’s an artist with a lot of influences and it’s made her genuinely conversant in lots of different styles.
Straight talk. Watt’s considered a folk artist and I don’t necessarily disagree. She plays guitar and banjo and her songs have a folky earthiness. But there’s also a depth and expansiveness that transcends folk. The bossa nova rhythms. The jazz trumpets. The spectral country. It’s so much more than what I think of when I imagine folk. So in many ways, I think this album might be a tough sell, since it doesn’t slot neatly into a hole. In a perfect world, this would have a wide appeal, since it explores so many different genres. But the underlying concept is tough to explain in a sentence or two, and unfortunately complexity and nuance are the arch enemies of selling music.
The confession. This was sent to me in July, so I’m pretty proud I kept this on my list for so long and stuck with it. It would have been nice to write about the album closer to its release date, especially because it’s such an interesting work, but twenty reviews into this project, I’m starting to make my peace with being super behind in discovering cool albums.
Closing arguments. Watt is more than an impressive songwriter. She creates idiosyncratic worlds, worlds that feel like they’re built upon lonely mountain hollers, quaint piano bars, and festive county fairs. It’s immersive and compelling. So much so that I’m drawn to Watt’s music, even though she’s working in genres that don’t always interest me. That pretty much tells you everything you need to know about this captivating album.
So much amazing music comes out all of the time. I review what I can as quickly as I can, working my physical and digital piles as efficiently as possible, but things fall between the cracks. Rather than giving up on things that are a little past their prime, contemporary-review-standards-wise, I’m going back for the overflow that deserves to be heard — even if it’s a little late.