Labeled neo-folk by some, the first studio collection from Bye Bye Banshee, Deathfolk Magic, is a four song EP written and driven by Minneapolis songwriter and vocalist Jezebel Jones. The neo-folk label scarcely does this brief release justice, however, as Jones showcases a creative vision wide enough to incorporate a variety of elements – classical and avant garde inclinations are rife throughout the tracks. Helmed by award winning producer and engineer Tom Garneau and benefitting from a lineup of first class supporting musicians, including jazz greats Chris and JT Bates, the EP largely came together live in a single session rather than being belabored over and drained of its underlying inspiration. It tackles thorny topics for some, even downbeat, but it has a creative exuberance emanating from its songs that’s impossible to deny.
The turgid tempo of the opener “If I Die in My Dreams” has a strong drum sound, a fat bass pulse accompanying the percussion, and Jones has a cawing, yet wonderfully soulful, voice. She inhabits every line of the song with unique ferocity and demonstrates all-encompassing vocal control with her ability to vary her voice from hushed respect to muscular, elongated lines seemingly dredged up from fiery depths of her heart. “Bye Bye Banshee” has a more traditional musical thrust but still relies a great deal on atmospherics. Jones and her musical collaborators never struggle to generate a palpable atmosphere of dread, but it doesn’t have a claustrophobic effect on listeners and even the direst compositions breathe with surprising airiness. The lyrical merits of these first two songs are beyond question – rather than writing about such themes with a heavy hand, Jones sketches out her thematic concerns with an eye towards nuance. The song’s musical identity is definitely more reserved than we heard with the opener – Jones leans much harder on a steady synth swell and surrounding instrumentation rather than the authoritative snap we heard from the opener’s drumming.
“Psychopomps” retains much of the lightly experimental edge defining the EP thus far and the repetitions in the heart of the song are essential for establishing a hypnotic effect over listeners. There is a skeletal melody shaping this song and its adornments are tastefully applied – Jones is careful throughout Deathfolk Magic to never upset the artful balance she achieves from the first song onward. The finale “Skull Rattles” has a tempered mid-tempo amble and evocative post-production effects imposing themselves on the music to excellent effect. It’s easily the most traditionally minded musical effort included on the EP, but still strikingly idiosyncratic and the elegiac quality of the song cannot be ignored. Jezebel Jones has written and recorded an EP release no one else could have and, much to her credit, makes the weighty topics of death and bodily decay a compelling listen for music fans of every stripe.