Jeremy Ivey, who had one of 2020’s strongest roots albums with Waiting Out the Storm returns with varied sonics, fresh players, and inward rather than outward driven observations bathed in buoyant rock, pop, classical, and even flamenco music, on Invisible Pictures, his third album for ANTI Records. Ivey draws from his surviving a severe case of COVID-19, the birth of a daughter to him and his wife, Margo Price, and a year without touring.
With the extra time, he decided to return to his pre-Price music, more harmonically complex and sophisticated. There’s truly little if any twang in this effort. It draws mostly from the kind of indie rock and British Invasion colors associated with psychedelic Beatles recordings and those of Elliott Smith with layered sounds, interesting instruments,s and chord choices. It’s a major departure both in terms of sound and lyrical themes.
Ivey explains that he listened intensely to Paco de Lucia and began playing more nylon string guitar while at home. He started using more passing tones in his writing and would make up chords to go along with those melodies, opting not for the classic three chords and the truth approach but using nine chords instead. He didn’t always know what he was after. He took this exploratory approach into the studio, enlisting renowned producer Andrija Tokic with instructions to recruit players that Ivey had never worked with before. While some were familiar Nashville names, others such as jazz violinist Billy Contreras were totally new.
“Keep Me High,” as you might expect has one of the more psychedelic soundscapes as it employs synths, organ, and strings as Ivey sings jubilantly. Yet closer inspection of the lyrics finds the dichotomy of ambulances and mafia interference juxtaposed with true love. “Downhill (Upside Down Optimist)” is another expansive sound tapestry with guitars providing the angst as Ivey recounts some of the struggles with the virus and other issues in the past year, summed with the cliché “It’s all downhill from here.” “Grey Machine” and “Phantom Limb” take us into dark worlds filled with desperate, drug-crazed characters, yet the music remains colorfully buoyant.
“Empty Game” is a softer keyboard-driven ballad with anything but a soft message as Ivey rails against those who only want to use us. He could be describing the corporate world, the military, politicians or any number of things. It’s another way of expressing alienation. The title track has a similar overriding message that we can rise above the gloom (“nothing can bring me down today”) and is stocked with the kind of Dylanesque lyrics Ivey is noted for. Like so many of the others the music belies the pain of self-inspection conveyed in “Black Mood” while Ivey goes solo, playing four instruments in the closing “Silence and Sorrow,” talking about what most of us do while guilt-tripping – “Clouds of anger hanging up over your head/You can’t stand your own thoughts/So you drown them out instead”
Ivey has a gift for peppering purposely vague lyrics with direct messages as if today the world is often dark and chaotic but there is a path through it. While the musical aspects of the project began rather experimentally, he ultimately delivers pleasing soundscapes that carry us through the bleakness. Somehow, we emerge feeling better.