From THE BLUE INDIAN: Literature and music have long enjoyed a mutually beneficial communion but none as enduring and consistently translated as the writings of Jack Kerouac adapted to song. Esperanza: Songs From Jack Kerouac’s Tristessa is a near-perfect marriage of the two. My lone disappointment with the project is that William Fitzsimmons, Lee Renaldo, and Tony Dekker were relegated to a reading roles instead of having them grace the album with their interpretation of some aspect of the story. The 13 songs and 3 readings come from and serve as the accompanying soundtrack for Kerouc’s dark yet somehow hopeful novella, Tristessa, which details in poetic staccato Jack’s descent into the broken soul of Mexico City where he meets the raven-haired beauty Tristessa who is a complex amalgamation of the shifting shadows of heroin addiction and prostitution.
I was struck by how this collection of artists and subsequent songs so perfectly captured the mood of hope and sadness in the story. It is difficult not to write extensively about each track given the depth and crafting of the lyrics and music in each, however, I will try to keep my enthusiasm manageable so as not to take too much away from your experience with the work. In “Billie Holiday Eyes”, Tim and Adam capture the allure of Tristessa and the pulsing longing in Jack’s core to fall headlong into the pools of black. Gregory Alan Isakov’s “O City Lights” gorgeously admits to a lack of control over a brilliant orchestration of instruments that makes the ache palpable: “O city lights, flyin’ at this speed, O heaven knows, it ain’t me behind the wheel this time.” On “She Has to Come Down”, Peter Bradley Adams makes Kris Kristofferson and/or Townes Van Zandt proud with the combination of haunting pedal steel, gently caressing backing vocals, and Adams’ description of Tristessa: “I set eye to a lady, who wanders alone in the crowd, with drunkards and dreamers, and lovers and dealers and clowns, some kind of angel with that far away look in her eyes, no sign of danger, cause she knows where to go get high.” Kerouac’s fascination with (or fear of?) death is grandly explored on Alela Diane’s “We Are Nothing” and Wintersleep’s “Father Time”. Tristessa is addressed in the soaring “Tristessa’s Song” by Marissa Nadler, “Tristessa” in dark barritone hues by Willy Mason, and “Esperanza” by Joshua James tenderly in Spanish and by Neal McCarthy with Barbara Kessler with a rawer texture in English with both providing necessary perspectives.
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