Cante Ao Vinho
5250 Front Street, Rocklin, Cal. 95677
Friday, May 18, 2018

With a smile, bangs hanging attractively over her eyes, and guitar in hand, Jessica, and accompanist Giorgi (violin) — both, happily, playing acoustic — ease into the gentle lilt of “Gold Flowers of the West”, rock wall appropriate to this quarry town as fitting backdrop, a mystery of the wine bar’s interior configurations balancing the harmonics to fine effect. The song, casually fading in the middle over rhythm guitar, is a brand new one inspired by how much Jessica misses California when she’s away; a line from which, ‘My voice was meant for singing’, accurately sets the tone for the performance. It is; she was.

Another new one, “Lonesome in Montana”, written for her mom, shows her strong vocal midrange. The evening’s drink of choice, ‘Vinho Doce Dessert Wine’, a white port at a reasonable $8, is confidently well-fettled, itself, and so good, I couldn’t put it down, even made it seem there was an extra verse to the song. Giorgi whips off a short solo, sharp and melodically mindful, and just at the upper bound of ideally loud. The people at the soundboard have everything dialed.

Dreamily languorous arpeggios alternating with complementary single notes open their third number, an exceptional piece of wistful melancholia that Jessica’s recorded twice, in two effectively differentiable mixes. The song proceeds, as many of hers do, like a laid back summer day out in the country; and later, during the bridge, Giorgi fills the role a drummer handles in some of their live shows: with his right hand he taps his bow on the violin’s body, and with his left, gives the upper neck a four-fingered tap, all in a timed-tandem. I’d always heard it was a versatile instrument. She tilts her guitar, calling thus to the muses of the backcountry highways, and follows through with a decisive chord, bringing in Giorgi’s violin solo of poetically aerial tones harvested from the Steinhardt strata; and he finishes off “A Fine Line” with a tranquil downbow.

Strong guitar chords begin the uptempo of the next number, as the violin seconds her into a song closely akin to The Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen A Face”; and if more than a ringer, it’s worth noting that McCartney, the songwriter, felt it rather country-western, making its rendition, here, that much closer to a match; fitting, too the performer’s repertoire of well-disposed songs, romantic introspections of life that have all the appealing relevance that artists posturing dated credos do not.

Imperative chords, building to further solidity, soon adds the violin into another new song. There’s a total assuredness, and certainty, in her playing; and this she accentuates expressively, joyously; while Giorgi, in one of many stringed idioms, slots in an early, short solo. “Summer Weather” is my favorite of the set so far, a minor-keyed folk blaster with a muted violin wah wah solo; and if your eyes wander to the floor, as eyes that are well-wined might, you’ll see a bank of at least six pedals in front of said musician — or more; there were a lot. A weaving violin solo over downplayed guitar ends the number.

Next up is “Angel of Montgomery”, a Prine classic burnished to lustrousness. I can forgive the annoyance of an occasional cover when it’s a track heard so infrequently; and more, that the performer plays it deftly into their performance, as she does, here; and to even better effect, being from the viewpoint, a woman’s, for which it was written. Meanwhile, Giorgi takes a polite background to Jessica’s voice, the latter of whom fittingly hits the guttural on key words, as “cowboy”. A fiddly violin solo appears late in as three more people arrive, give attentive ear; and no one leaves.

Picking up a ukulele for the next song, and, striking some crisp strings, Jessica leaves just enough room for the violin to easily glide into “Wake Up With The Sun”, the track that opens her second CD release. Her expressiveness adds to her art, wraps the audient in the song’s presence; the duo now playing to a reasonably full house, all but one table occupied. Facing Giorgi during an extended violin solo, she’s on it with her ukelele, matches him; and calls it, another in a succession of songs well-pedigreed from the hinterland of country-folk.

Before their eighth, Jessica relates her earlier life in northern Cal, with her dad as roadie, a good tale. High-treble uke chords, sharp, even staccato, open “Best Love”, a slow and methodic piece, working into a passage of lone ukulele, the violin subtilized into a faraway background until we hit the anthemic chorus, the centerpiece of whose yarn she spins out as, “I’m blazing trails with my baby, Some people might think we’re crazy”. When the lyric calls for it, her voice is once again throaty, and she employs it to optimal effect. A violin solo rounds it out, the whole song characterized by well-spaced four-stringed chords, sharp and in full-color contrast, wrapping up their first set. If I had a quibble from the show, and it’d be the only one, it’s that the chorus is a tad repetitive, could perhaps use an added couplet of rhymes to spur the intrigue; but it could also well be said that the song’s very particularity of character compensates.

A break followed; and as I resistantly fixed to make my unwished-for departure, it appeared that, of the audience, at least half were staying for the second part of the performance. To this she warmed up with what, I think I may safely say, is in typical Jessica fashion, galloping confidently into the piece, minor key in hand, opening the door to a winning progression of scales on this second set opener, singing, “…this love’s on fire…” (and whether a cover or original, my quest for its provenance finds ingress barred; but no matter, it’s a kickin’ tune), Giorgi returning to take his place on stage for an obliquely darksome tune of a positively rocked Americana.

A gentle hum remained with me for hours afterward: the wafture from that stemmed glass; the rapture of Jessica’s songs. Looking at the numbers on her event page for the night, either everyone showed up, or found replacements to save face, a rarity for most performances where ‘interested’ somehow equates to ‘going’. Call it a higher quality following: All but one person in the venue were wrapt or otherwise attentive during the show. Looking for more, to follow up on my post-concert exposure, from her web repertory she offers at least one tune I’d denote pure country (which I credit with the twang of steel I’d misremembered, as I found when returning to the song several days later), and easily a few that favor the folk idiom; but in the main, the body of her work strikes me as roping in both of these, the live experience then amplifying them into a rock-and-rolled lark, easily defining a genre — if only a few thousand know it so far. Jessica’s spirited command of her instruments, including – especially – her measured voice, bright, and articulately projected, sees her casually flinging her songs out, so that you receive, with smiles, the joie de vivre her words imply. The old west mule-paced lilt of select phrasing on the ukulele pulls you right into her world of a happy past; and this she passes on to those present. She’s published two studio CDs (see JessicaMaloneMusic.com) all of whose tunes you can spot, in addition to some others on Soundcloud and Youtube. Even the high art-folk of Joni’s strings — guitar and piano — were never this emphatically unambiguous; and her recordings not only set the standard, but the bar, for well-defined notation from ‘68-75, over and above the (adjectivally speaking) less accentuate Judy, Judee, Judith, Julie, Jackie, Janis, Joan, and… — oh wait, Jolene was a song — these by way of epochal instance. I tend to think that if Jessica’s catalog took a trip on the wayback machine, it’d find itself as a reasonably apt companion piece to Cheryl Dilcher’s Special Songs  (1970).

Jessica’s estimable recorded body of music reflects much of what I’ve cited here; but it’s the live experience (I’ll say it again) that is, conspicuously, that much more riveting, the contrasts, shadings, and dynamism of every chord paired with and against every individual note; and more remarkably, if possible, the smooth quality and control of her softly resonant voice, mistily opaque, expressing a wider dynamic range, far beyond the scope of what others of her stamp, plying her genre (or any other) are generally capable of; that said with no exaggeration. Timbrally, the twanged accent requisite of country singers is absent, barring a lone syllable or two. Unexpectedly, an occasional bluesy edge to her voice erupts, often melding into a dash of the sultry; then held, just, in check. It’s the way she flings it out. From edged kinetics with swing, to the pastorale, and no pretensions, she lets her hair down and keeps it there; artful songs of the heart seen through a window on the West, old and new, of languid evenings under the empyrean when the heart pines for the wide open spaces and skies; music of the open roads; and dusty, footloose, and freeborn, she alloys the not-inconsonant remembrance of faraway melancholy and secret triumph within her sound, which, at the end of the day is ever-optimistic, the cheer of a pot of gold at the end of each painted number. The heart, solitary and otherwise, always overcomes.

Songs of patient longings, straddling the wistful and the pensive, her voice ranges wide; and, into the warp and weft of her material, there’s even a piece of medieval literary history that fits, satin glovelike, into the theme of her work. Singing, too, of leisure days in the country and hearts fraught, but sanguine, these cancoes, bountifully personalized, lay out a banquet of character, markedly distinct from the lazy, lo-fi, one-chord, atonal folkie strum carried, when at all, by dragging, off-key monotone vocals mouthing naive lyrics; whose old-hat minimalisms are fobbed off by gushing fans, as the new, fashionably underground, thing; the amateur decompositional substance of whose fluff is, to a varying extent, fulfilled by the latter-day likes of Berryhill and Difranco; by early Kahn and Jewel; and into whose puddle, to Jessica’s credit, she seems in no immediate hurry to step. ~ And I’ll be the one to break it: only a mass pharmacopic delusion gives the Fateful Meds any remote semblance, beyond that of a glorified jugband, of actual musicianship, there being a point where lack of sophistication crosses the line from ‘homespun charm’ to ‘unburdened by talent’. In marked, and classy, distinction, what we’ve got here is the blithesome antithesis: Jessica keeps the ‘art’ in artist.

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The venue, a partner of the Placer Wine Trail, is pronounced ‘Cahntay Ah Veenyo’, and translates to ‘sing to the wine’; though there’s no question but that the wine was singing to me. The helpful service from the lady behind the counter was exceptional; and I cannot more highly recommend the rich nectar of their Vinho Doce Dessert Wine. While hoping for the return of their riesling, and Sweet Dreams Dessert Wine, their red berry sangria, beckons, as does the apple caramel (which, sneakily, looks like a white wine). Cante Ao Vinho is located, picturesquely, across from both an historic chapel (of 1883 vintage), and a small grapevine-enwreathed orchard. adding to the local color, all on a side street just off Rocklin Road, and far enough from the thoroughfare to lend a sufficient sense of a quiet country air within the city, providing you with peaceful potations, ao ar livre, on their front porch. Their tasting hours are Friday-Sunday 11-5; the wine bar’s open Wednesday and Thursday 4-8, Friday and Saturday 5-9; with live music on many, if not most, Friday and Saturday evenings, 7-9: Do check their calendar: CanteAoVinho.com/events/, as Jessica Malone is scheduled to make another stopover, soon.

-Forrest L. Woods

(May be reprinted, in full, with attribution.)

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