The strange elfin folk world that Jessica Pratt inhabits seems to be frozen in time around 1971. Her records sound like they have been discovered rather than released – lost gems from rooms full of large cushions and floral dresses.
You can hear the hiss on the tape, you can see John Peel in the studio clutching a Bridget St John album waiting for a cassette to take home to listen to with a herbal tea and a hash joint. You can see him in a high-neck sweater in a large one room flat in Notting Hill adjusting the draft excluder trying to imagine a moody cover for the album with Jessica standing half in shadows, half in velvet and planning where the Dandelion logo might go.
The record is dominated by finger strummed or picked nylon string guitar authenticated by the occasional fret buzz that only adds to the atmosphere. Accompaniment is sparse and hard to decipher, melodies intertwine with curls of incense. Pratt has been compared to Joan Baez and never has a comparison been so far off the mark – wrong continent, wrong era, wrong guitar style, wrong lyrical content, wrong mood. One wonders if it is ignorance or folly that makes such declarations. At a stretch, on Jaquelyn In The Background, the closest she gets to the North American continent is as a European Gilberto and even then it’s only one song, a fleeting moment, and only in its deadpan delivery and only if you stripped away the Bossa Nova altogether. Sibylle Baier sits much closer to her schtick, or perhaps something Welsh, at least something middle English – Pratt simply doesn’t sound American.
On Jaquelyn In The Background the lost artefact idea comes to the fore – between 2.40 and 2.50 it sounds like the tape has buckled and the song is lost to a crease. This is what gives it away, these days contemporary artists stand by their mistakes, or technical errors as little glimpses of authenticity in their work. This track would have been abandoned by Sibylle or Bridget whereas Jessica embraces it.
Sometimes Pratt sounds like she has recorded the album in a temporarily vacant Community Hall corridor and other times, properly mic’d up she sounds like she may in fact be making an album and not just recording songs on an old tape recorder in a run down mansion in the Cotswolds, or in downtime at The Manor. (Richard Branson’s seventies Virgin records creative oasis).
She favours the atmosphere over technical questions and executes her choices with aplomb. She must love Nico’s Chelsea Girl, she must love Vashti Bunyan but most of all she must struggle in shiny studios – I can’t imagine she could record without a cat in the room. The Incredible String Band inhabit her dreams and if it wasn’t for that odd quality in her voice she might slip unseen between The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers of the Onion and The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter.
One wonders what happened to occasional label mates Espers as Jessica Pratt tempers the Psychedelia, thinking – it’s enough already with her voice. Or is she Joanna Newsom’s sister? Drag City (the label) certainly gravitate towards these forest nymphs and one wonders how many of these naiads and fairies they have lost with them constantly sprouting wings and flying away.
Break out the doilies and the dark furniture, slice some lemons, find the honey and put the kettle on, grow your hair long, knit, close your eyes and willingly drift away to this cultivated anachronism.