Every now and then when attending Austin's South By Southwest music festival you hear something special, something new that you remember as being pretty great. This is the point of such a music conference -- to feed the soul of music lovers by showcasing talent whose rise to stardom, while ascending, may still be at the horizon. Though you don't always leave the festival hearing the next great thing -- I can say that wasn't my experience this past March thanks to Jessie Baylin strutting on stage as part of the Hotel Cafe Tour.
I was attending the show to hear several up-and-coming acts like Ingrid Michaelson, Cary Brothers, Meiko and Greg Laswell. As good as they all were, I left resolved to find out more about the smoky-voiced 24-year-old who captivated the crowd with her easy, effervescent stage presence and poppy-jazz.
Poppy jazz -- that is the only way I know of to describe someone who immediately reminds me of Norah Jones and Diana Krall but with much more of a pop edge. The comparison is actually an easy one to make since Baylin co-wrote her first album, "You," with Grammy-winning artist Jesse Harris, who also worked extensively with Jones in the past.
On her next album, "Firesight," Baylin again collaborates with Harris, resulting is a very inviting and expressive collection of personal songs that is masterfully produced.
"It's a collection of a bunch of moments in my life," said Baylin. "I'm just trying to be as honest as I can, and hopefully people will connect with the songs and recognize moments of their own life in them."
Baylin explains that the name for her second album stems from an inn her parents owned in her native New Jersey. In early childhood Baylin would sing for customers at the Fire Sight Inn, nuturing a fire that would one day send the maturing singer/songwriter to Los Angeles and ultimately her adopted hometown of Nashville, where she recorded the album.
"That's why I wanted Firesight to be the title of the record," Baylin explains. "It's where I come from, and it’s who I am."
The album's highlights are introspective cuts such as "Was I On Your Mind" and "Contradicting Words" which might suggest the singer is an old soul and much more mature than her young age. The less-jazzy, more poppy cuts are pretty incredible too -- songs like "Not A Day More,"The Glitter" and "By Any Rules" rush to my mind -- where they have been playing repeatedly.
"Listening to this record still sends a chill up my back," said Baylin. "I think that most artists struggle with fear and insecurity, and I certainly do, but I’ve never felt more confident and comfortable on stage than when I'm playing the songs on Firesight. It just feels so good and so right; I just fall into it, and I’m in the moment and it's beautiful."
Beautiful it is. Baylin has constructed an album where even the slow love songs aren't that slow and there is enough life in them to appeal to a non-jazz crowd -- further bridging the gap between Jones' mix of jazz/pop and pop music.
Baylin is certainly an artist worth keeping an eye on and this album is heavily recommended. As per usual now-a-days, a few cuts are available to hear on demand on her MySpace page, myspace.com/jessiebaylin. But I wouldn't spend much time there -- just head on over to iTunes and make the purchase. You won't regret it.
Baylin's tour dates are expected soon, so stay tuned.