by Tyler Morgenstern, Staff Writer
On the opening track of her new full-length album, True Meaning, singer-songwriter Caitlin Jemma pleads for a touch of something real—whatever the costs. “When you walk further from something, you get closer to something, too,” Jemma muses, as if to the open sky. “One little feeling, please, one little feeling that will bring me to my knees.” Set atop the strains of a spacey steel and sung in Jemma’s distinctive, breathy soprano, it’s a declaration of sorts — a promise, made on a road trip from Austin in the wake of some great loss, to be open to whatever lessons the universe and the open road might have in store.
It’s a bold aspiration, to be sure. But it’s one on which Jemma makes good across this lively collection of tracks, which freely blends the sort of plaintive, introspective balladeering one might expect from the likes of Courtney Marie Andrews with shades of southern rock, indie pop, Motown, and soul. But for its eclecticism, True Meaning is not exactly scattered or unfocused. Holding it all together is Jemma’s singular vocal delivery: ornamental, playful, agile, and unvarnished in all the right places, yet somehow still earnest. Throughout, she’s grounded in a sturdy commitment to chase and (should the opportunity arise) to accept with grace something like true meaning.
Nowhere is this optimistic approach so clear as on the rollicking country-soul number “Yes.” As Jemma sings, threading her lyrics through a mash of vocal growls and sparkling horns, “I’m making it up baby, and I’m learning as I go. This time around I’m leaving open a few extra windows and doors.” “Yes,” in a word, is what True Meaning is all about: a willingness to improvise, to throw open the windows and greet whatever (or whoever) the wind brings rattling home, to answer the world when it comes knocking, to feel whatever needs to be felt, however it makes itself known. The track is, quite literally, a breath of fresh air—a sprightly summer gust that knocks the dust off the old winter curtains.
These upbeat tracks work especially well as foils to the album’s more subdued and melancholy turns, like “Constellation in the Sky,” which finds Jemma gazing skyward, speaking to a departed loved one over a far-off, tinkling piano and a gently brushed snare. Here, Jemma’s signature vocals and thoughtful writing blend seamlessly with Sacha Müller’s elegant production, creating a moment of virtual transport that plants the listener directly beneath a pitch-dark desert sky. What might come of this moment, what we might learn from it, remains to be seen. But at the very least, True Meaning takes us there, and asks us to be ready, to be open, and to be true.