Americana releases often collapse under the weight of their pastiche. Too many writers and performers treat the genre like a butterfly intended to be pinned under glass rather than allowed to breathe. They are too reverential, too respectful of the icons who fired their imaginations, the experiences they poured into song. Arkansas’ Billy Jeter is free from such concerns and restrictions. He recognizes blues and bluegrass, among other styles, are far from inert modes of playing where you pay tribute to the past rather than living in the present and looking towards the future. When Jeter, for instances, tackles the blues, he surrounds himself with first class instrumentation riffing on recognizable tropes yet phrasing them with assurance and individuality.
The self-assurance is apparent from the first. “Orion” begins Shine Eye Landing with tempered, even melancholic, emotions swirling throughout its lyrical arrangement. The song, however, has a soothing hypnotic effect despite its introspective mood and listeners are introduced to several of its key musical strands during this performance. The second cut and title song is one of the album’s undisputable highlights. The synthesis of musical color he achieves during this performance is a high bar for following tracks to clear; the juxtaposition of the vocal melody and musical arrangement compliments each other enormously.
There’s some tasty banjo playing rife throughout “That’s Just the Way We Roll”, particularly during its second half, and the upbeat jauntiness contrasts nicely with the comparatively placid presentations of the album’s opening duo. “Sins of Me” is another peak moment on the release. It’s an inward-looking meditation on a lifetime of choices and the occasionally swelling, emotive thrust of the composition creates a memorable sonic landscape for Jeter’s musings. The slide guitar playing is a nice touch. “Cut You Down” evolves from a nebulous opening into a striding acoustic based number with strong echoes of Dylan reverberating throughout its four-minute running time.
The light honkytonk of “Spider Lilly” is the album’s most convincing nod towards a classic country sound and has a Gram Parsons-like touch. Its reverb-laced guitar lines sparkle with the right amount of twang and the drumming sets a laid-back pace listeners can relax into. Jeter never places the onus for carrying the album vocally on his shoulders alone. He’s wise enough to utilize well-arranged backing vocals during many critical parts of the album and their contributions add immeasurably to each of Shine Eye Landing’s ten tracks. “Oh Lordy Me” is an excellent example of what they bring to the table and its slightly up-tempo trajectory generates quietly simmering energy.
I think he ends the album in note-perfect fashion with “The Apostle”. It underlines his devotion to the Americana style while emphasizing how much he brings of himself to each song. A sense of stakes powers each of the album’s ten tracks. Billy Jeter’s Shine Eye Landing is an album of the south, without question, but he writes with a facility and scope rare among the talented singer/songwriters working today. He is a rare talent who hasn’t yet reached his peak.