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Jo Wymer - Living With Scars

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For every review I publish, there are probably five-hundred I get approached to write. The music world has changed because more than anything, the internet has opened the floodgates in terms of music that's available. You are not bound by what your local record store carries. This is a blessing and a curse because it means everyone thinks they're an artist and I often hear dozens of records I admire but simply don't love and with limited time, I often can't write about. They don't crawl under your skin or unsettle you, miss evoking pure euphoria and above all else they don't paint pictures vivid enough for me. However, usually once a year someone comes from out of nowhere to remind me of why I love music and in 2011 the artist's name is Jo Wymer. Listening to Jo Wymer's debut CD Living With Scars is akin to having a cold bucket of water thrown upon you as you are in a hibernating sleep but also is as warm as a fire on a winter night. Converging more than a decade of song writing and performing around the Asbury Park, NJ area she has crafted a ferociously stinging record whose roots are deep in rock, rhythm and blues. Above all else, her songs don't hold back and discretely brush over ache, but confronts it head on.

"I Can Tell" opens Living With Scars with the lyrics "I can tell you don't love me" and instantly Wymer takes us on a candid drive of hard brash realities that are universal but few are willing to go into detail about. The heated lyrical jolt is complimented by a cracking and lashing full throttle combustion of instruments. The gutsiest moment on the record is "Dirty Secrets" which she talks of how intimacy can be followed by severe awkwardness where two naked bodies drift apart after sharing the most personal of experiences. The mental foreplay people play with one another dissipates when the clothes are removed and Wymer has channelled the essence of this regular occurrence into a reflective anthem of despondency that I've never quite heard before now. She doesn't just take us inside her world, but lays out the mental secrets and personal distress which we try and often fail running from. Most of life's greatest tragedies come out of never letting go of the past however Wymer embraces her life and uses it as a stepping stone which she has risen above. The band's muscular foundation of guitars, bare knuckle drums and wailing vocals immediately pulls you in. The human spirit and psyche is so tender a record executive would encourage the artist to bury the pain only leaving a smidgen of the ache to be head but Wymer has no filter and delivers one song after another of tough-talking tales.

"That Kiss" features a wondrous chorus ready-made for radio. It's about finding new love when all else appeared impossible. I dare you to not roll down the windows and sing it at the top of your lungs with its big beat and booming chorus. "I'm Gone" has a bristling bluesy backbeat while "Memories" is a stirring ballad about not running away from your past because it infuses your very soul; to deny it is to deny yourself. "This Ain't Love (and War)" is heightened by a wall of horns in an unrepentant display of self-worth. Wymer's slams her declaration of supercharged swagger into overdrive on "Real Man" and "Can't Live Without Your Kiss" which sequentially plow through a tale of significance and yearning. Wymer's voice takes on fierce and fascinating dimensions so that even when she pines for someone or something it comes off from a place of strength and not as a wounded heart. There's a crushing sense of rebelliousness throughout all ten songs on Living With Scars. The album closes on a bluesy "Come On Baby" with some surreal six-string work that tips its hat to Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn. The minimalist atmosphere allows her voice once again to pierce through with the same intensity as a gospel-choir. While the album is full of robust and rocking arrangements, I love the "Sleepwalking" aura of "Come On Baby". When the 42-minute album concludes you can't help but wish there was more. Props must be given to Wymer's full-bodied arrangements as she easily could have gone down a more commercial path and also a less restrained path. The truth is I could see artists as varied as American Idol winners and Melinda Lambert perform rock-hard renditions with considerable impact, but they would be polished up and sadly lose most of their gusto. I mention this to point out the strength of her song writing which comes with an unflinching sense of authenticity.

Jo Wymer comes off as one who has lived life, breathed it in, learned many dear lessons and is sharing them here. The record is full of contemporary clarity whereas so much music is drenched in nostalgia making us yearn for something long gone. Instead of questions and ache, there's a deep resolve in the lyrics that's sexy as hell. Most artists are fragile souls who still haven't found their groove, their inner peace or who even fully understand who they are. What makes Living With Scars such a revelatory listen is her brazen confidence with which she delivers the songs. Her voice is husky, yet sweet. It could easily overpower the arrangements but it doesn't. However she is able to remind one of such stinging emotions you can't help but be daunted. The album is a study of light and darkness as she takes us down her harrowing hallways of heartache, desire and ultimately redemption. Living With Scars is one of the 2011's best albums.


Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter


Jo Wymer - Living With Scars
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