There’s a strong hint of Leonard Cohen in Darren Jessee’s songwriting on The Jane Room 217. You can hear it from the first tune “Anything You Need” and it never relents. He has a strong connection with the love song tradition, in some ways, but brings an uniquely well-written power to this type of song. The song has light keyboard work in the background and Jessee’s guitar up front, but there’s some piano adding a little color as well. The strings further sweeten the mix and the work, as a whole, has a satisfying even-handed effect unlike anything I’ve recently heard. “True Blue” continues the album’s high quality with another song of companionship and endurance in the face of our own foibles, but the real thing standing out for me on this tune is Jessee’s sweet vocal performance, thoughtful and perfectly attuned to the musician’s needs.
“Dying Violins” and a later tune, for me, are the album’s peak moments. There’s some jaw dropping imagery layered throughout the lyric and the undeniable melodic qualities of the verses and choruses alike are going to impress many listeners. Naturally, the song features strings, but they play the same supporting role in the mix and latch on to a slightly elegiac quality that I loved. “Ruins” and “Leaving Almost Ready” are quite the contrasting tunes. The musical approach remains the same and they strike equal levels of excellence, but there’s much more hope in “Ruins” surprisingly given the song title, than what we hear in the latter tune. “Ruins” has an interesting guitar song with more “sparkle” than we hear on many of the other cuts while “Leaving Almost Ready” has a much more unvarnished acoustic tone. While these many not be the best tracks on the album, that’s not a knock at all, and “Leaving Almost Ready” definitely has one of the best choruses.
Few of the songs on The Jane Room 217 have a gentler, dreamy than “All but a Dream”. The dream-like effects reflected by the title are never clichéd, vary from the earlier tracks in important ways, yet maintain the same blueprint driving the collection up to now. The album’s second to last number is my other favorite cut from this release and has the best lyric. Jessee’s poetic talents are simply stunning as he delivers an emotional blockbuster built around his customary mix of the impressionistic and concrete. The keyboard performance is very good here as well.
“Go On Baby Break Down” has another slightly rough-hewn guitar sound that makes the singing and lyrics all the more effective. Jessee urging a lover, friend, or perhaps even himself, to simply let go of the pain so they can begin their lives anew is one of the best “messages” on this great album. It is quiet, yes, even unassuming in the way it takes on its musical mission, but Darren Jessee’s The Jane Room 217 flies in the face of many modern musical trends, brims over with outstanding lyrics, and never disappoints.