With the recent release of Undress, Jesca Hoop fans have been rewarded with more frequent releases than ever. It was her third release in eighteen months; she’s been treating her listeners well. Five Songs Live was recorded on October 17, 2013, and it gives a glimpse of the outstanding performances she has been giving of her established material as we wait in anticipation for her next studio album.
- City Bird.
As haunting as ever, the echo in the room seems the deliver Jesca from a forgotten past. With prophetic-jazz lyrics, City Bird finds itself tiptoeing along familiar corridors: slower, reserved, suspenseful. “I set the table for the ghosts in my home. And pour the wine and raise a glass for the guests in my home.” Better to be haunted than lonely. City Bird exemplifies the vocal improvisations that really set this EP apart. By the end of the song, the skid-row warnings and lamentations from beyond seem unreal before the eager cheers of the audience.
- Murder of Birds.
This is the first time this song has been released as a solo performance. Jesca’s soprano head-voice is more elastic in the absence of Guy Garvey. A sparser rendition of this song is unimaginable. With that comes a newly found attention to lyrical content. Guy’s warmth is missed, if not for the enjoyment of the audience, then for that loneliness in Jesca’s voice. There is a melancholy that was not present before, especially during the chorus. The improvised free-singing is so detailed you can see her lips forming the words if you listen closely. The track is filled with animal imagery and the shared secrets of lovers. The way Jesca phrases each note into an arcing line is exquisite. This track is a beautiful variation on a theme.
- Born to.
This rendition is slower than we are familiar with. The intensity builds with each verse. Again, the solemnity in Jesca’s voice sounds mercurial. Jesca’s vocal dexterity in style and range is as diverse as ever. The song stretches from apocalyptic imagery into memoir. It transitions from third-person to first-person with eloquence and tact. The dynamics are more prominent on this track than the others. “You’ve got to get it with what you’ve got. What you’ve been given or not.” The track is a tribute to natural abilities and our potential to realize our passions, both because and in spite of them. This is no better illustrated than in Jesca herself.
Warning: This song contains morbidity.
As with the previous tracks on this EP, the lyrics on this track find new prominence in the composition. The dominant-tonic one-five of Jesca’s guitar forms into a delicate pulse, wavering with the melody throughout the song. Her phrasing during the bridge is great. Just great. The smoothness of the first half of the song is contrasted by the pin-point outro. This song showcases the ever-present intimacy of Jesca’s songwriting more than ever.
- Hunting My Dress.
One of Jesca’s most distinguishing traits as a performer is her ability to perpetually reimagine her songs through hundreds of performances. She tends to her songs through the years like a patron saint. This performance was just three weeks before she recorded the song with Sam Beam for her album, Undress. The shape it had taken on before Sam’s arrangement shows beyond a doubt that Jesca’s music is alive. This song absolutely steals the show.
Jesca transforms her guitar into a harp during this piece. This is, perhaps, the most organic song in the repertoire of an artist who has lived in, of, and by the wilderness for years. Adopting the voices of several animals throughout the story, Jesca pleads with herself to-and-fro; never sure if she can be trusted. The instrumentation swells like the waterline of a drought-quenched reservoir. Her words grow like branches in a cove through which she lures you. Each verse leaves a new impression in its wake, as the intricacies of her song structure contrast her meditatively simplistic guitar parts. This is Jesca at her best: alive, alone, a love.