Letters We Told is the self-penned, self-recorded debut album from Jay Woodward, released late last year. It's an intriguing mix of ageless folk and modern technique and appreciation for the possibilities of simple songs, softly sung. It's a concept album built around the idea of the album as a form of correspondence - a letter home, or a letter from America even (but not that "Letter From America"...)
The album kicks off with the instrumental Mandolina, which does pretty much what it says on the tin, and is a gentle and suitable entry-point for what follows. I was picking up occasional Matt Berry vibes from the melody, but perhaps it's just that distinctive Mandolin sound forcing the connection in my mind.
Later on there are snatches of other singer-songwriters scattered through the songs. Hardly surprising really when you have a talented song-writer singing intimate introspective songs in hushed tones, accompanied for the most part by an acoustic guitar and some smart production flashes. The result is part classic folk, part modern twist.
Nowhere are the ghosts of troubadours past felt more keenly than on "Believe the Honest in Your Veins". From the reverse-tracked intro, and the first chord change the name Elliott Smith won't be far from your mind. The song itself is a quiet, melancholy, with a lyric Smith would surely have approved:
Your father's eyes are dead
Your boss's eyes are dead
You're wishing you were dead
On the beautiful "The Truth", Woodward performs a similar Smith-esque trick, his multi-tracked voice whispered but pure, staying delicate and steady on the song's long notes.
"Garden in the Sun", perhaps the album's standout track, takes a simple tune and turns it into a hazy dream, with subtle production, some gently humming background guitar, some velvety smooth vocals and a beautiful lyric:
I read thoughts but only for a moment
Think fast cos that old train ain't rolling my way home
Towards the end of the album, as the end of the day approaches, lies the similarly dream-like "Don't Fall Asleep", a comforting slice of folktronica with its repeated (and almost hypnotic) refrain: "Don't fall, don't fall, don't fall asleep".
Before that comes "Little Bird", during which it's almost impossible not to picture a Pink Moon-era Nick Drake hunched over a lone mic pressed tight to the guitar strings, so resonant are the bass notes, so intimate the sound of the instrument. Here, Woodward makes the most of his experience as a sound engineer at Capitol Studios in Hollywood.
Overall, Letters We Told is a calmly assured debut, an album that rarely feels the need to rise much above a whisper, and why should it?
If you want to hear more, you can listen to the album on Spotify. Most tracks are also available on Soundcloud. You'll also find Jay -