On her sophomore album, contemporary singer/songwriter Jessie Baylin finds herself on the Verve Forecast label, home to Ledisi, Liz Wright, Dion, Brazilian Girls, Zucchero, Kate Walsh, and Steve Winwood, to name a few. Firesight is also Baylin's first album to be released as a physical object; her debut, You, was produced by Jesse Harris and released digitally. Harris is still in the picture here -- he co-wrote four of the album's 11 cuts, and plays guitar on them -- but it's Roger Moutenot in the producer's chair this time out. Moutenot's résumé is wildly varied. In addition to producing six albums for Yo La Tengo and The Hot Rock for Sleater-Kinney, and the New Amsterdams, he's been an engineer at least as long as he's been a producer. Some of his clients include Elvis Costello, John Zorn, Bill Frisell, Paula Cole, Patti Scialfa, Freedy Johnston, Gillian Welch, Josh Rouse, and Heather Eatman. Moutenot has taken these strictly modern urban pop songs and made them almost extraordinary. Baylin is 24 as of this writing, and while very talented, she writes with the angst and wiry, unfocused passion of an artist who has many heroes but hasn't found her own voice -- yet. Moutenot knows how that sounds and how to record it. The proof is in the very first track, "See How I Run." He took those feelings and the accompanying identity crisis -- portrayed by very clever turns of phrase in a country-ish tune -- and framed them into a reverb-laden but sparkling midtempo ballad (co-written with Harris, who provided the gorgeous melody). It's got a lot of the loose backbone that Lucinda Williams displays in her melodies, but it's more urban than that. It's followed by another Harris collab in "Leave Your Mark." One of three songs recut from You, it's adorned in enormous cellos, shuffling trancelike snare drums, mandolins, acoustic guitars, and banjos, underscoring and surrounding exceptionally unhinged lyrics. It feels like the Laurel Canyon sound of the 1970s brought home to the 21st century. Baylin and her small band wrote a strictly "modern rock" tune in "Not a Day More" (a song that was made for a movie soundtrack if there ever were one), and Moutenot gets the right rhythmic pulse down cold. He wraps her voice in just enough smoke and mystery to get her lyrics across, and transforms the guitars to sound like extensions of Mick Ronson playing with David Bowie. But there's more than this -- the piano ballad "Lonely Heaven," written with Greg Wells (with Will Kimbrough guesting on guitar), brings her limited vocal range to bear in a vulnerable, tender, but streetwise ballad. You can hear traces of Carole King but also Marianne Faithfull in her delivery, with its reedy low-end warble. Ultimately, Firesight will appeal to those who bought Rachael Yamagata's Happenstance or even Norah Jones' more rootsy material with Charlie Hunter. The songs are well-crafted, carefully arranged, and beautifully recorded. The appeal lies as much in Jessie Baylin's delivery as it does in her songwriting and Roger Moutenot's recording.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek