Jake Winstrom is a lifer. A single listen to this release reveals Winstrom’s songwriting. The nine songs on his new album Circles are the obvious product of someone interested in perfecting their craft realizing, all the while, that such perfection is impossible. It is the striving that matters. These songs don’t announce their ambitions with blaring fanfare and musical chest-thumping but, instead, manifest their ambitious tendencies in other ways. It is difficult to not notice the laser focus present in nearly every song and the consistency of the diction. Winstrom has an identifiable songwriting style, no small achievement, and despite a familiar musical frame of reference surrounding each song, there’s never any imitative moments marring this collection.
He kicks off the album with a memorable start. “Come to Texas She Said” is full of great yet understated guitar work, essentially a blues boogie, tasteful percussion, and organ. The peaks and valleys Winstrom and his fellow musicians orchestrate brings the song to life from the first. It has a blues edge he doesn’t revisit, but it’s a powerful opening, nonetheless. “My Hiding Place” strikes a bluesy note as well, but the music doesn’t owe any allegiance to the form. The relationship is a spiritual rather than sonic connection and Winstrom’s voice is suited for this sort of melancholy.
“What’s the Over Under?” takes interesting instrumental turns during the song and his willingness to incorporate a wide variety of sounds is one of the album’s greatest strengths. It’s one of the sharpest lyrics included on Circles, as well, despite the familiar metaphor anchoring the track. The folk inclinations of “I Walk in Circles” is one of the more notable moments on this release thanks to the exquisite treatment it receives on both a vocal and musical level. You half expect Winstrom to veer off in an alternate direction, but the song has a consistent sound and approach.
Jake Winstrom’s vocals are likely an acquired taste for some, so the presence of secondary voices such as Sarah Smith’s on the track “Loose Change” switch things up from other counterparts on the release. There’s some colorful guitar running throughout the track and, in some ways, it’s a harbinger of a sound he explores even more later during the release. There’s a rollicking air to the track “Washed My Face in a Truck Stop Mirror” when it hits its peak passages and a biting guitar solo during the song’s second half takes the album further in a rock direction. This culminates with the album’s conclusion “Kilimanjaro”. It recalls Neil Young’s work with Crazy Horse and the jammy vibe never taxes the listener’s patience or sounds self-indulgent. His lyrical acumen operates at a high level here even if the meaning behind some of his imagery may be a bit inaccessible. It’s nevertheless a top shelf way to end the album. Jake Winstrom’s Circles is one of the most individualistic full-length releases coming out this year and bodes well for the veteran songwriter’s continued creativity. Long may he run.