“Do your art. Generally, a thing cannot freeze if it is moving. So, move. Keep moving,” said poet and psychoanalyst Clarissa Pinkola Estés. These were words artist Jess Nolan lived by over the course of the last three years. As everything in the world came to a halt, she kept her creative mind in motion - writing, drawing, singing, and painting her way through the unknown, pursuits Nolan has always relied on to help alchemize her surroundings.
The seeds of her sophomore LP ’93, out now via Righteous Babe Records, sprouted in the height of 2020. Nolan, a member of Jenny Lewis’ all female touring band, is an in-demand co-writer, vocalist, and touring musician for artists like Katie Pruitt, Joy Oladokun, Lydia Luce, and more. In the midst of the initially involuntary stillness, she planted a backyard vegetable garden, moved her involvement in mentoring young female songwriters online, and traveled back to her New Jersey hometown to stay with family for weeks at a time. In the face of uncertainty, strong, deeply-rooted feelings came pouring out, resulting in 10 poignant reflections on rebirth, reconnection, and mindfulness.
I love Jess’s voice, her melodies, they lift me. Bet you can’t listen to this record just once. So happy to welcome her into the Righteous Babe family. –Ani
With an intention for listeners to feel grounded from its first moment, ‘93 is meant to be a meditation, bringing a sense of rootedness in its execution. “The process of recording this was relaxed,” Nolan recalls. “It’s the safest I’ve ever felt while creating something.”
In an age of autotune and click tracks, Nolan and her co-producers, Will Honaker and Ross McReynolds, pursued a much more collaborative, organic approach. In December 2021, the trio, along with the help of musicians Calvin Knowles and Zachariah Witcher, set about building the tracks together live in their two-room studio, Camp Senia. The sessions were spread over the course of half a year, bringing in more dear friends who lent their talents to the process. During sessions, Nolan’s friend, Rebecca Wood, would pull up her catering mobile halfway through the day to provide a fresh and nourishing meal. The atmosphere of the album came from an open and spiritually full place.
This is evident from the first notes of “Moss,” which envisions a world beyond the binary of “either/or thinking,” and explores being reinvigorated by the idea of change. “Windowpanes” carries the theme of openness, lyrically and sonically. Nolan’s voice is effortlessly ethereal, with friends and fellow artists Katie Pruitt and Kyshona providing hypnotizing harmonies, as she encourages a change in perspective in the face of disagreements.
“Clockwork” grabs your ear immediately with a sparse vocal, drum pattern, and two piano chords. The track slowly expands to reveal affected saxophone swells from David Williford before dropping into a full-on groove crafted by Ross McReynolds. The second verse’s shift in energy matches the hard questions asked by Nolan - “gently swallow the pill of your pride / really holding up a trophy when you’ve barely started?” “With self-investigation, I think we can all be on a path to better understanding,” she says. “ I’m singing to myself in this song - what happens when we open up to really go there with ourselves? Look at the parts that make us cringe and have the compassion to see it fully.” That sentiment is paired with a track that compels the body to move.
The album’s proverbial pit, “Sweet Like A Peach,” features the breathy warmth of Megan McCormick’s guitar tone and backing vocals as Nolan softly lulls about the dangers of only showing the best parts of ourselves when looking for love, and the fleetingness of lust.
“Emergency Landing” and “Breathe In (ft. Lo Naurel)” examine the weight of daily anxieties, reaching for anecdotes on self-preservation with the help of velvety vocal pads, while “Sick From The Candy'' captures a one-take, live performance in which Nolan fingerpicks guitar and croons about boundaries.
On album track, “Cherry Blossom,” from which the album derives its title, Nolan celebrates reconnection, sweetly singing to her parents, “once a part of you gave me life / from the truest parts of you, I was a light / mid-winter ’93 brightly born / another branch out on the tree, I was a thorn.” Against a gorgeous rainbow of strings played by Laura Epling, the landing leaves the listener lying down with a shimmering hopefulness for rebirth.
Nolan completes the journey with “Wonder,” a tender, acoustic track about independence and freedom, reminding us that every day is a new beginning. “There’s a Joni Mitchell quote I came across a few years ago that I keep close to my heart,” Nolan reveals. “She said, ‘With a long relationship, things die then are rekindled, and that shared process of rebirth deepens the love. It’s hard work, though, and a lot of people run at the first sign of trouble.’ I think this is true of all kinds of relationships including the one with ourselves. Writing this album was a declaration that I will not give up on myself. Only from that place can I fully show up for those around me. I have so much gratitude for this process of making songs and sharing them. It mimics the natural cycle of things… life, death, life,” she continues. “I see this record as a true reimagining of myself musically and personally. My hope is that it can provide love and comfort to those who need it.”