It’s usually a musical treat when an artist finally steps past the shadows of artists they’ve written for to take us on a journey that will either affirm stylistic limitations or express a vast grassland of creativity painting over the planes. For Jordyn Shellhart, it’s a balance between the two, teetering towards the latter as her debut, Primrose, tackles apropos content and skews the expected into something emotionally deep and vibrant, allowing the vocals to have this indelible stamp after the song has played. Though it isn’t some landmark Country album that leaves us with something sonically profound, Shellhart’s writing shines under the lights, where the accompanying strings, piano, and drums play eloquently in the back without much hindrance or true pizazz. The focus tends to have more of a presence within the writing, as some instrumentations feel slightly hollow, despite the composition not taking a complex nose dive pivot. Complexity isn’t needed within the core base of weaving the first notes of a Country song – like her contemporaries, Shellhart brings more nuance to the underlying rock and pop textures, keeping attention nigh through some rough patches.
The writing of Primrose tackles themes within familiar territory as most songwriters tread into; however, Jordyn Shellhart tackles it creatively as she relays these personal moments with auspicious storytelling where it isn’t so cut and dry. It isn’t easy for someone to reflect on instances of abuse, co-dependency, cheating, and more, like the persistence of an Ex’s mother in the song “Tell Your Mother I’m Fine,” with a common confident retort after. Though it isn’t the only instance of taking a tongue-in-cheek approach to the writing, Shellhart is aiming for a proper equilibrium to flex the range with which she can take verses and choruses, allowing the listener to gravitate toward something captivating. They all carry this vibrant aesthetic within the Country music landscape, keeping in tow with an overuse of the guitar strings to guide the principal emotional bravado within the heart of the song, like the contrasting hopeful rhythms on “Steal A Man” or the spirited and doubtful notes of of “Amelia.”
There is a broader sense of her musical direction as Shellhart takes us down these intricate paths where we get to hear quality melodies that reflect the poignancy of its themes, like that of abuse on “Amelia” or the overindulgent term for the other in a cheating scenario, homewrecker on “Steal A Man.” But it’s when we get to the second that her writing is reinforced tremendously, like in “Maybe You’ll Have A Daughter,” which looks at being discarded when the feeling of love is high. However, as pivotal as the writing is, through the words, the construction of the melodies and harmonies are equally so, and the unique styles complementing, and sometimes contrasting, each other, allows for a smoother listen than some simple but effective sonic landscape isn’t as fully immersive as say something from the dynamic force within Nikki Lane’s more outlaw country notes. I’m not denouncing the solid instrumentations, as they come with a sense of quality and direction, but sometimes they feel safe. It lacks this want to become something grander, whether transitioning between collective layering or more broken down, like with “On A Piano Bench Getting Wasted” or the tiring moments of “Maybe You’ll Have A Daughter.” But it takes a step back to let it all progress smoothly with the occasional standout.
It’s what makes “Joni” such an intriguing moment; we get to hear the sizzling pop-catchy chorus fluidly moving through the danceable track, which sees Shellhart playing with a popular perspective viewpoint on Joni Mitchell’s music, where one hears her writing style more direct to the emotional conflictions, being more thorough than the allusions created by Jordyn Shellhart. This gets heard in the chorus, where Jordyn Shellhart sings, “First words outta your mouth, “Are we in a fight?”/I sit cross-legged on the bed, you say you’re pickin’ up a vibe/How can I make you understand that everything is wrong?/I don’t think Joni Mitchell would like any of my songs.” Through it, Shellhart notes how the weight bared from past relationships is too convoluted for her to deliver proper direct emotional gravitas, instead leading us through these distinct modest romps that use more detail for an expansive view of the content. Shellhart is letting the themes breathe through the elaborate situations, allowing the storytelling to flatten the let us hear the progressional ferocity of its multi-layered writing.
As it’s heard in “On A Piano Bench Getting Wasted” or through the thematic resonance of gaslighting in “Who Are You Mad At.” There is this resounding presence for world-building that Shellhart doesn’t try to get straight to the point, instead allowing for the situation to highlight the themes through action, like the former, where Jordyn Shellharts takes a moment to sing through a conscious perspective about the feeling of longing as if it is this mystifying haze around love. As she would sing, “I’ve never been the girl dreaming/Of first sight butterflies or I do’s in chapels/Maybe it’s just a full moon or because/I watched Sleepless in Seattle/But tonight I guess I feel different,” you get a contrasting sense of her being, and how wine and a film can shift feelings about it. The depths of her writing add a much-needed refresher from the more expansive, sometimes colorful country sounds. The instrumentations won’t be that memorable, but the melodies will, especially that of “Irrelevant.”
Primrose is a neat and complex album that goes to the depths by reflecting its themes and making the listener focus more on the writing than the instrumentations. Though it isn’t the most astute production, sometimes, playing it safe sonically, we get an album that offers quite a bit, even if its appeal isn’t as widespread. Fortunately, it has some memorable moments, and Jordyn Shellhart makes a name for herself. It will leave fans of the genre fulfilled and hopeful, especially as this is only the beginning, and there is only up left to go. Give it a spin; did you like it or not? Leave a comment below.