Everyone’s heard “write what you know,” but, in the best country music, perhaps “write what you’ve lived” is more apt. Jaime Wyatt is a recovering addict who’s also recently outed herself. And, before all that, she’s a woman trying to make it in the country music biz. All three traits are worthy of a well-penned tune. On her latest album, Neon Cross, Wyatt lets it all fly out, judgment be damned.
Wyatt’s last release, 2017’s EP Felony Blues, was a well-received collection of fairly standard country-rock. For the new record, she wanted a bigger sound to match the wider scope of her songs (and her life). She brought on friend and ace producer Shooter Jennings, and they recruited an immensely talented band (including, sadly, some of the last recorded works of guitarist Neal Casal). The album, against type, begins with an aching piano ballad, “Sweet Mess.” Dedicated to the type of lover who seems oblivious to the havoc she wreaks – “You never see the little things before you/I’ll guess that just like all the rest, I’ll be forgotten.” I’d wager that, given her bio, Wyatt sees more than a little of herself in that sweet mess.
The record fully kicks into gear with the title track, a rocker which has Wyatt looking back on her battles – “They say life is here to teach me/But it kills me slow and easy” – and how much her misdeeds may end up costing her. Is it worth it? Wyatt asks that in the mid-tempo “L I V I N” – “I just quit the pills, to pay my bills, and all I do is cry.” Answers don’t come easy on Neon Cross, but they rarely do in life, either.
She’s tough, though, and she’s a woman who insists upon being in charge – of her life, and of her music. “Just a Woman,” featuring Jessi Colter, spits fire at those would doubt her abilities – “There’s not a man in this world I would rather be” – but also refuses to ask for special treatment: “Think it over carefully, wasn’t your mama just like me?” In “Goodbye Queen,” she acknowledges the lethally hard edge she’s developed – “I’m afraid you might just break before I bend.” Her burned-in toughness has, more than once, caused her to play the heel.
As honest as she’s become about her sexuality, it’s not an in-your-face theme on the album. But “Rattlesnake Girl” takes on the isolation she felt while being a gay country artist – “I see my sweet friends out on the weekends…They keep their secrets all covered in sequins.” She can only wish for the kind of freedom that anonymity brings. And the most traditional country song on the album, “Hurts So Bad,” features Jennings on vocals along with some amazing pedal steel work from John Schreffler, Jr. The track gives us a look beneath all of Wyatt’s toughness as the hurt piles up – “I lost the best I never had.” Wyatt has endured – and given up – much along the way to making this record, and it results in a collection of songs that feel lived-in and hard-earned.
Neon Cross was produced by Shooter Jennings, recorded and mixed by Mark Rains and mastered by Pete Lyman. Additional songwriting credits go to Austin Jenkins, Travis Stephens, Chris Masterson, Eleanor Whitmore, Dax Riggs and Matthew Sweeney. Additional musicians include Jennings (piano, keys, synth, guitars, background vocals), Neal Casal (guitar, harmonica, Wurlitzer), John Schreffler, Jr. (pedal steel, guitar, background vocals), Ted Russell Kamp (bass), Jamie Douglass (drums), Brian Whelan (bass, piano) and Aubrey Richmond (fiddle).
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