Seeing how much fun Julia Massey and her band mates have, it’s hard to imagine that this band does anything but write and perform music for their personal joy. Their natural chemistry suggests that when they play music, they are doing just that; playing. Though ranging in age from later twenties to early thirties, the three members, Julia Massey, Geoff Gibbs, and Dominic Cortese, seem to approach their music with the natural excitement of children heading to recess. The result of this recent year-long recess is “Five Letters From Far Away”, an 11-track collection that is an exercise in the balance of peaks and valleys, sorrows and joys.
Kick-off track “Top 100” is as joyful as it gets. Starting with quick tinkering piano, Massey suggests that her listeners take a break from “the age of information” and appreciate what is in front of us and what we may be missing due to preoccupation with the future. The song is a light, quick sled ride, riding a very catchy melody in the verse.
“Marquee Malarky” is the first song on the album to bring the mood down a bit, opening with the lines “In the gentle arms of sleep, I buried you deep down.” Like all of Massey’s best songs, even the bummer tunes with the deeper message offer a silver lining. The moral of this story is “We don’t need a bit of praise to know that we’re okay. Know that you’re okay”. She has a way of driving important life lessons home through her unique and soothing voice, even if she’s telling her listeners something they aren’t ready to accept.
“Don’t Worry Bout Us” is the most fun the rhythm section of Gibbs (bass) and Cortese (drums) get to have on the record, especially in the breakdown around the 3-minute mark. When Gibbs plays less reserved, his talents as an above and beyond bassist really shine through, perfectly exemplified in the fantastic groove he and Cortese create toward the song’s end.
If “Don’t Worry Bout Us” is the highest high, then “Song Of The Dying” is the lowest low. With no cheery piano to rely on, Massey gets deeply personal. She sings a song about a young girl with an old soul that learns of death early on by asking innocent questions. Only a few years later, she tries to apply the answers to the passing of her mother, “as you kiss your old body goodbye, and hello, and goodbye.” The song is a rerecording of a song Massey wrote and recorded five years ago as a solo artist. The first version is just Massey and an acoustic guitar, and she sings hauntingly and beautifully. While the modern version finds its place on this album, it loses the delicate vulnerability gorgeously presented from the original in overproduction.
Five Letters From Far Away is JMFFD’s third release in only three years, and this album picks up where the last, “Is Their Room For Me?”, leaves off; gracefully transitioning from light and joyful to deep and reflective. When the band is taken at face value for their hooks and melodies, it’s easy to overlook the darker lyrics and subject matters. Under the surface level image of three ageless musicians at play, Julia Massey and The Five Finger Discount is not afraid to tackle more serious subject matters and share their wisdom; to which we should all listen.
Julia Massey and The Five Finger Discount – Five Letters from Far Away tracklist:
- “TOP 100”
- “Sri Ma”
- “Marquee Malarky”
- “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Us”
- “Back Door Open”
- “Song of the Dying”
- “Who Silently Suffers?”
- “There Is a Song”
- “Here Is a Stone Wall”