Singer-songwriter Jay Psaros is proof that hard work pays off. His fifth studio album, again produced by Lorne Entress, Trees Beyond the Town, was completely fan funded, with Psaros doubling his funding goal. This reward is due to his countless hours playing bars, medieval-themed dinner theaters, small clubs, house concerts, weddings, support slots for national acts and small headlining tours at regional clubs. He’s hustled as a booking agent, produced for other artists, written music blogs and even taught the occasional lesson. Suffice it say, his networking has worked.
The songs have influences ranging from Americana, blues, jazz, jam bands and folk…all rooted in the tradition of the singer/songwriter. Psaros says, “One of the great joys of being a singer/songwriter is the ability to shape shift. Although I miss the dynamics of being in a band, I love the freedom to fully explore a variety of different directions. With “The Trees Beyond the Town,” I wanted to explore several influences and trust that a through line would be found…something I think we succeeded in doing.”
Producer Lorne Entress, a former drummer for Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters, has an impressive producing resume for Boston-area artists including Lori McKenna, Susan Cattaneo, Mark Erelli, Catie Curtis and Barrence Whitfield to name to just a few. He worked with Psaros on his previous self-titled album and recruited some stellar backing musicians including: Kevin Barry on guitar (Rosanne Cash, Peter Wolf), Sam Kassirer on keys (Josh Ritter, Joe Pug) and Jesse Williams on bass. Entress mans the drums.
It’s Psaros’ relaxed warmth and unpretentious manner that makes him immediately appealing. Yes, he’s mellow but in a good way, not a boring one. The understated atmosphere also accents the deft touches applied by the musicians, whether it’s Kevin Barry’s lap steel on the opening “Dear Jane” or Kassirer’s organ swells on “Strangers Again,” as just a couple of examples. Meanwhile Psaros comes across honestly and authentically with his lyrics, revealing a gift for melody and the occasional infectious hook, amidst some stark, and haunting backdrops.
While those two tunes carry a band feel, “Hold On My Love” is closer to customary singer-songwriter fare, opening with his acoustic guitar and gentle organ, then piano and nice guitar break from Barry. It’s a slow waltz, buttressed by the harmony vocals of Deni Hlavink. There’s an intimacy as if they’re singing to you in your room. Requisitely, the tempo picks up for “Coming Up the River” which has perhaps his catchiest chorus and more exemplary work from Barry especially.
While “Hold On My Love” is a great example of Psaros” tender touch, “Only Love’ goes even deeper in this direction. His self-restrained voice pitted against the weeping pedal steel is both sad and gorgeous as he sings in hopeful resignation, “only love can save us from ourselves.” Entress’ percussive touches and Psaros’ vocal give “Think I’m Gonna Get It” a Paul Simon-like feel. “Anything At All” has the complete band sound of the opener with pedal steel, organ and emphatic guitar fills. It’s his most melodic, hook-filled tune. The lengthier title track is a more contemplative, twangy tune as Psaros in his highly finessed way provides lyrical descriptions.
This is a relaxed, subtly rendered recording that says plenty in a splendidly understated way, leaving you wishing there were more than just the eight songs. You’ll likely hit ‘repeat’ because his tunes sneak in quietly and tend to linger.