Jesse Lafser has had land in sight for eight years now. That's how long she's lived in the Music City of Nashville, a town of considerable charm but nothing in the way of oceans. If she came for the water, then she, like Humphrey Bogart's Casablanca character, was misinformed.
Named after a Thomas Hart Benton painting of a woman playing guitar, Lafser is rarely misinformed and often informative. Her latest album, Land In Sight, is a gentle gleamer, a testament to what's possible when someone with unique perspective mines the rich pool of talent in today's Nashville and seeks atypical beauty.
"Lafser's ability to tell a story is remarkable.... her unassuming voice is subdued, simple and clear - perfect for delivering Land In Sight's profound truths," wrote Erin Manning in American Songwriter magazine. Erin Manning was not misinformed. Co-produced by the artist and Mike Odmark, Lafser's latest gets compared, pleasantly, to work from Gillian Welch, Mary Gauthier and others who trade in a rare kind of gritty elegance, and who seek an emotional specificity that connects disparate souls.
Lafser was born a quarter century ago in St. Louis. She was raised on St. Louis blues, Roger Miller and transition: She and her family moved eight times - all within the city - during her youth. Classically trained on guitar and piano and less-than-classically trained on banjo and harmonica, she wrote her first song at age 15. It is not included on Land In Sight, an album whose title is inspired by a Mark Twain story about sailors lost at sea and finally found.
Lafser knows about loss, struggle and fear, and about the cessation of these things. Music, of course, is not the cessation of these things: It's often the cause of these things. But it can also be a balm, and if Land In Sight is clear about the fearful stuff, it also shines with hope and transformation. Jesse Lafser shines with these things, too. You may go see and hear that for yourself, should you choose.
*Land in Sight was recorded and produced by Lafser and Mike Odmark (Gray Matters Studio) and features Nashville favorites Andrew Combs, Spencer Cullum, Evan Hutchings, Mike Rinne, and Kristen Weber.