Yes, Jaelee Roberts is the offspring of two longtime fixtures in the bluegrass music scene, industry exec Andrea Roberts and Grascal member Danny Roberts. Yes, it’s helped her get a headstart with music not everyone gets. It’s clear though, after listening to her debut album Something You Didn’t Count On, that Jaelee Roberts would be where she is right now without influential parents paving the way for her and I doubt it if they gave her much more than minimal assistance. Something about the singer here tells me she wouldn’t have had it any other way.
One of the many positive qualities behind this release is its boldness. There isn’t a single point during the album’s dozen songs when Jaelee is remaking the bluegrass music wheel for a new generation; we aren’t talking about that sort of boldness. Instead, Jaelee sounds like she’s already been playing, writing, and singing for years on this debut. If she has first-time jitters, you definitely don’t hear any.
Nor do you hear any of the self-indulgence that seems practically inevitable when discussing even the most talented of newcomers. The verve and brio present in songs such as the title cut never outpace Jaelee’s ability to remain in control and she’s delivering a thoroughly natural, yet well-rehearsed, performance. It’s a fine line to straddle and she makes it sound easy. She shows boldness in approaching the religious orientation of songs such as “I Owe Him Everything” without shirking an inch from its sentiments. She’s performing other writer’s songs with an ease but you can hear that she’s gotten under the skin of each track.
The cover of “Landslide” didn’t surprise me, but it did surprise me I liked it so much. It has its fans, without question, and the Dixie Chicks’ bygone cover certainly proved the Fleetwood Mac evergreen works in more than a single style. Roberts’ definitely invests the song with a much closer purist vision of the song’s bluegrass potential, but its pop attributes shine brighter than ever.
“The Best in Me” wavers between powerful yet direct lyrics and some passages where it feels a little more heavy-handed. The musical setting is as outstanding as ever, but I confess a little exhaustion with the near sameness of the approach. It seems like the album runs on perhaps one or two songs too long. It is an interesting lyrically juxtaposition with the songs bookending it, however, and perhaps gives us a glimpse into the creative process behind this.
A lot of listeners such as myself will come away from hearing this release with the belief that the album’s second half is stronger than its first. The trio of “Lie to Me”, “You Can’t Stop Me from Staying”, and “The Beginning Was the End” expands the album’s songwriting scope in a way that the first part doesn’t with an increased presence of bittersweet humor. There’s commercial appeal present in “Lie to Me” despite being a bluegrass track and the blues affectations of “The Beginning Was the End” ring out as true rather than half-hearted attempts. Songs such as this help bring Jaelee Roberts’ debut Something You Didn’t Count On to a memorable conclusion.
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