Jessie Wagner’s newly released album Shoes Droppin’ is a record that is going to have a lot of jaws droppin’. Yes, that awful pun was intended, but it is true. For those like this critic who might be new to Wagner’s work, it proves to be quite the pleasant surprise. That has already been more than proven through the three singles that it has already produced. Released today through Wicked Cool Records, the 11-song record is the very definition of the term “diamond in the rough.” That is proven through the record’s diverse musical arrangements and its accessible lyrical content. All three of the singles that the album has already produced – ‘My Darlin, My Dear,’ ‘What You Get is What You See,’ and ‘End of Time’ — more than serve to support that statement. They are just some of the ways in which the record proves itself such a pleasant surprise, too. ‘Great One,’ which comes early in the album’s 40-minute run, is another way in which the album’s musical and lyrical content makes it such an impressive offering. ‘Passin’ Me By’ is another way in which the record’s musical and lyrical content comes together to make it such an enjoyable offering. It will be discussed a little later. ‘Caretaker,’ which comes late in the album’s run, is one more way in which the noted content collectively makes the album so powerful. When it is considered with the other songs noted here, the noted singles, and the rest of the album’s songs, the whole becomes unquestionably one of this year’s top new albums.
Jessie Wagner’s new album Shoes Droppin’ is one of the most pleasant surprises of 2020 so far. That statement is not made lightly either. This record offers something for everyone, both musically and lyrically. As already noted, the trio of singles that the record has already produced proves that without question in its own right. They are but a snapshot of what makes this hidden musical gem so appealing. ‘Great One,’ which comes early in the album’s run is one more way in which the album shows its strength. That is due in part to its gentle, flowing musical arrangement. The minimalist approach of Wagner’s vocals, a piano and a guitar makes this song so richly engaging and moving. On one hand, there is a touch of country music influence here. On another hand, it could also be likened to so many adult contemporary compositions. It all comes together to prove the old adage that sometimes, a song can be heavy without being heavy. The emotional heaviness of the musical arrangement works well with the lyrical content to enrich the song even more.
The song’s lyrical theme sends a message to listeners that they should realize their potential, rather than wallow in self pity. That this message is delivered in such a gentle way will touch listeners in the best way possible. The noted message is sent clearly in the song’s lead verse in which Wagner sings, “Can you rise above the rest/Think you’re really that blessed/As you wallow in your mediocrity/Is that all you’ll ever be/Someone once said that you were good/Why’s that so hard to believe/Can’t listen to what they say/Over the demons in your head/Do you even try/Do you even dare to be a great one/To find the how and why/That leads you to become one of the great ones.” The message is continued in the song’s second verse, in which she sings, “Each time you share some of yourself/Hope it won’t lead you to break/though I can see how fragile you are/But how little you can take/You set your bar way too high/On that unreachable star/You should just give up and be happy/Never thought you would get his far/Do you even try/Do you even dare to be a great one/To find the how and why/that leads you to become one of the great ones.” The song’s third verse adds even more impact as Wagner sings, “Everyone must dream/but some dreams fail/Who are you to think yours isn’t the same…won’t you stop your dreaming/And lead the way/How many chances do you take/How many goals do you give/Before you realize…” The last of the lyrics is a little difficult to decipher sans lyrics sheet to reference. Even despite that, the message remains clear. Again, this is a message encouraging listeners to wade through the rough waters and to believe in themselves; to make the best lives for themselves. That it is delivered so clearly, is delivered in such a gentle fashion and couples with an equally gentle musical arrangement makes the song that much more memorable. It is just one of the additional ways in which Wagner’s new album proves itself so endearing. ‘Passin’ Me By’ is yet another way in which the album’s musical and lyrical content comes together to make it such a strong new effort from the up-and-coming artist.
‘Passin’ Me By’ is the polar opposite of ‘Great One’ in its musical and lyrical content. This song boasts an upbeat musical arrangement that exhibits a varied range of influences. The use of the horns, vocals, and drums gives the song a bit of a vintage R&B sensibility. At the same time the guitar arrangement within the song is something of a bluesy/southern rock work. The elements all come together to make this arrangement such a fun, infectious composition and yet another way in which the record’s musical content proves so pivotal to its presentation. When that content is coupled with the easily accessible lyrical content, the song becomes that much more enjoyable.
The lyrical content featured in ‘Passin’ Me By’ offers a message of hope, reminding listeners again, not to let themselves get down even when things get tough. This is inferred right from the song’s outset as Wagner sings, “Dark owls in the sky/Don’t seem to bother me/I just keep looking for that silver lining…Though the rains may fall/I know that they’ll be passing me by.” The noted message is inferred just as much as she continues in the song’s second verse, “Every once in a while/People try to get down/But I just ell myself to keep my head up and move along/Well I can’t/let them decide/How I should feel/Or when I shine.” Not all of the lyrics are understandable in this case. When Wagner hits those low notes, her voice blends in so much with the instrumentation, that is becomes somewhat difficult to decipher her lyrics. Even despite that, enough is understandable that the intended message is clear. Keeping that in mind along with the positive impact of the song’s upbeat musical arrangement, the whole succeeds in its mission to uplift and entertain listeners. To that end, it proves easily what makes it yet another important addition to Wagner’s new album. It is not the last of the record’s most notable songs, either. ‘Caretaker’ also serves to enhance Shoes Droppin’.
‘Caretaker’ comes late in the overall sequence of Shoes Droppin’. Its musical arrangement is just as much unlike the other songs noted here (and the rest of the album’s works) as they are from one another. This song is more of a pure R&B composition. There are no other songs in this record that sound like this one. It is just one more way in which the album’s musical variety keeps listeners engaged and entertained. When it is considered along with the song’s lyrical content, the song gains even more traction.
Wagner sings in the song’s lead verse, “No one said ‘I’d be there for you, baby.’/It doesn’t mean I have to…be a caretaker/Deal breaker…So the bottom dropped out/And our lives got flipped/turned inside out/Now the whole world sits up on my shoulders/Can I keep it balanced until further notice/I’m so used to getting by/With a smile/And the wink of an eye…this was not in the plan/Get a job/Get a man/Live happy ever after…” Some of this is, again, tough to decipher, but enough can be understood that it cane be interpreted as a song about empowerment. The refrain about not having to give up on one’s needs and become a caretaker for another is a statement of independence. What’s interesting here is that if in fact this really is the case, then the song’s arrangement certainly does not match the message. It is not one of those fiery, “I am woman, hear me roar” type works. Rather, it is a controlled yet still confident sense along with the lyrical content. It makes the song that much more certain to resonate with Wagner’s female audiences. Keeping that in mind, it proves itself another important addition to Shoes Droppin’. When it is considered along with the other content addressed here and the rest of the record’s works, the album in whole becomes so much richer, engaging and entertaining. All things considered, the collective musical and lyrical content featured in this recording makes it unquestionably one of the year’s top new independent albums and albums overall.
Jessie Wagner’s new album Shoes Droppin’ is a successful offering from the up-and-coming singer-songwriter from beginning to end. That is proven throughout in the record’s diverse musical arrangements. The arrangements will appeal to a truly wide range of listeners. The lyrical content that accompanies that wide range of music is well-thought-out but still accessible considering the topics featured in each song. All three of the songs examined here prove that without a doubt. The same can be said of the record’s singles. When all of that is considered along with the rest of the album’s works, the album in whole becomes a true musical diamond in the rough that shines so brightly in its own right.
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