As a child of St. Louis, singer-songwriter Jesse Lafser is definitely what her second album's title, "Raised on the Plains," suggests. She now lives in Nashville, but her sophomore release captures the flat highways and back mountain roads that she came from and traveled through to get there.
For openers, "Jack Hat Blues" contains elements of Chuck Berry rock that kicks off the album with an easily danceable number - the kickoff to a road trip. The tempo slopes downward for "Gone, Gone, Gone," an acoustic painting that's as smooth as the landscape passing by the car window, halfway through the journey.
Those looking for a just-paved smoothness in her work won't find it, as Lafser capitalizes on a sound well traveled. There's rough gravel in "Darlin' It's a Waste of Time" and "Circus of Saints," but other songs are easier going, like "Virginia Morning," which ticks past like mile markers in a rear view mirror.
Lafser's vocals are clear as the prairie skies, almost unnaturally so. Then again, that's Lafser's other strength. Her sound is so organic that it's not just raised on the plains but as earth-bound as the soil and grass. The lyrics that accompany simplistic instrumentals mix Bob Dylan's observational poetry - and trademark harmonica that sings its own words in "Great Divide" - with Lucinda Williams' locale and hybrid style.
She knows when to go small, however. Some of the best work on the album is the stuff that strays from sweeping metaphors. "There's a whole other world that we're missing / I don't want to do the chores," she sings in aptly-named "The Chores Song." It's a small sentiment with bigger meaning, but Lafser gets it across without going overboard.
That's a good way to describe the entirety of "Raised on the Plains" - an album that gets a strong point across without overstating it. In this case, Lafser celebrates her roots, routes and life through music that's right at home in the heart of the country.