Jackson Cavalier is well-known in his hometown of Rochester as a solo act. As a one-man band he has won the city’s Best Busker contest year after year. With guitar in hand and harmonica at the ready, he keeps time with his toes tapping at the tambourine and a rustic suitcase bass drum. His first solo LP entitled Full Moon sounds a lot like his live act, but with a few extra touches. Now, within a span of less than a year, Cavalier has released his second full-length solo album, Spellbound.
Like the black and white labyrinthine album art, the music at first seems deceptively simple. It soon becomes apparent to the listener that the songs are comprised of multiple layers of acoustic texture and lyrical meaning. Spellbound comes out of the gate at a full gallop with the title track, an acoustic song heavy on guitar and harmonica. The Southwest-inspired finger-picked tune sets the tone for a bewitching tale about trying to avoid a spell, but finding it’s too late. The shanty sets the tone for the entire 12-track album, which shares the common theme of being enchanted – whether by love, death, or even time itself.
Cavalier uses the medium of Indie Folk Rock to take listeners on a journey through an anthology of timeless tales. “Mt. Hope Blues” is set in the hills of Rochester’s Victorian cemetery, and told from the perspective of a ghost watching his beloved pick wildflowers for his grave. The boot-stomping song “Sister Prim” tells a story of revenge by a woman scorned. “Razor Wire Death Song,” the one single pre-released before the album, is perhaps the most poetic: “I see the reaper grim and tall / scythe and cloak and horse and all. / He’s not a specter on a hill to be feared, / he’s standing right in front of me beside this mirror.” Later in the album Cavalier reels it way back for the sparse and sentimental ballad “Ribbons.”
Whereas Cavalier’s earlier original songs with his full band The Fevertones had a more traditional Americana folk styling, with accompaniment by violin and upright bass, his sound has evolved into a distinctive style of folk rock with country flair. The songs on Spellbound have a rich, full quality, in part from the addition of Thomas Draper on bass guitar and Joey Small on drum kit & auxiliary percussion. The tunes are accentuated by a subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) sprinkling of melodica and Glockenspiel.
The harmonious pairing of the music and storytelling has a mesmerizing effect. The result of Cavalier’s adept musicianship is a work that has come by its name honestly, as it truly leaves the listener spellbound.