Jessye DeSilva

REVIEW: Jessye DeSilva “Renovations”


Jessye DeSilva – Renovations

Representation and acceptance in art come in many forms. Some take a “big tent” approach by explaining their personal truths in hopes of gathering more folks around the table. Americana artist Jessye DeSilva, though, has decided on a different approach. The non-binary trans songwriter is not asking for approval or acceptance. Rather, on their new album Renovations, DeSilva is claiming their own reality as inarguable and making music that, they hope, will serve as a lifeline to other trans folks.

DeSilva establishes his policy of no apology with Renovations’ first track. “Dysphoria,” featuring Jake Blount on banjo along with DeSilva’s upbeat piano line, begins definitively with “I don’t want to be your social justice project/I’ve got enough work to do myself.” They’re battling enough within – “But when I’m with Dysphoria/The world just sees a monster” – to worry about being an inspiration or an idol. “Proud & Lonely” has the singer trying to find peace in all of that chaos – “Lay down those heavy bones you carry with you/Won’t you settle down.” And with standout fiddle work from Cecilia Vacanti, it’s also one of the prettiest country songs you’ll hear this year.

DeSilva burrows into their past – and the origin of their pain and resolve – in “Sundays.” The genuinely pretty tune – elevated by Joe Dunn’s work on mandolin and lap steel – contrasts a genial church-y setting with the judgment barely hidden beneath the surface – “Resent and indignation served with iced tea and baked beans/Smiles laced with bitterness and shame.” DeSilva’s childhood isolation in a house of God – “Burning bushes, weeping stones/I never felt more all alone” – turns out to be their introduction to a lifetime of dysphoria, realized for what it was only after years of othering.

The heaviness of the material is nicely balanced by outstanding musicianship across the record. DeSilva sings defiantly, with just a hint of musical theater drama, and singer-songwriter-guitar ace Aaron Lee Tasjan shows up on three tracks, including a scorching solo on “Let It Burn.” “Clouds,” though, features DeSilva at their most vulnerable while calling directly to their target audience – “We gotta learn to see ourselves/Without their clouds in our eyes.” DeSilva is singing not just to the young trans kids in their orbit, but also to their younger self, hoping to undo the damage done to them by the decades of hate and ignorance. These are the people that Jessye DeSilva made Renovations for. It’s on the rest of us to listen, learn and accept.

Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Fall from Grace” – This rocker also features Tasjan on guitar, but the highlight is DeSilva and musical partner/co-writer Alex Calabrese trading vocals that have a little bit of R.E.M.-ish jangle to ‘em.

Renovations was produced by Alex Calabrese and Jessye DeSilva, engineered by Maia Mara and mixed and mastered by Tyler Nicolo. All songs written by DeSilva, with co-writing credits going to Calabrese. Musicians on the album include DeSilva (lead vocals, keyboards), Calabrese (acoustic guitars, bass, backing vocals), Marshall Biever (electric guitars), Aaron Lee Tasjan (electric guitars), Steve Dennis (electric guitars, backing vocals), Jake Blount (banjo), Cecilia Vacanti (fiddle), Joe Dunn (acoustic guitar, mandolin, lap steel), Ellen Angelico (pedal steel) and Michelle Tucker (drums, percussion).

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