Elise Davis / Jenee Halstead
On Elise Davis’s new album, Cactus, she moves between lush alt-country and stripped-down folk confessionals, gluing everything together with story-driven songs about independence, liberation, and resilience as an adult woman. Cactus is the follow-up to her 2016 debut, The Token. Its songs were vulnerable and diary-like, their lyrics pulled from Davis’s past romances. Cactus turns a new leaf, with Davis taking pride in her status as a single, self-sufficient adult woman.
Davis grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she began writing songs at age 12. By college, she was booking her own tours and gigging regionally across the state. It was her relocation to Nashville, Tennessee, that kickstarted the busiest phase of her career, with Davis landing a publishing deal during her first two years in town. Daily cowriting sessions whittled her songwriting to a sharp point, while an ongoing string of recordings—including The Token, recorded in Maine and released in partnership with Thirty Tigers—showcased a musician who shone as brightly onstage as she did in the writing room.
When it came time to record Cactus, Davis remained in Tennessee, tapping producer Jordan Lehning (Rodney Crowell, Caitlin Rose, Andrew Combs, Jasmin Kaset) to helm her most personal work to date. The two worked together for six months, holed up in Lehning’s home studio, looking to albums such as Tom Petty’s Wildflowers and Aimee Mann’s Mental Illness for inspiration.
Jenee Halstead’s latest release, Edge of the World, adds to the indefinable soundscape in which her soft and supple voice floats exquisitely. The Boston Herald described it as “like sorceress music, rings of smoke through the trees and the bells of Rhymney,” while comparing Halstead’s working relationship with new producer Sean McLaughlin to that of Emmylou Harris and Daniel Lanois for the way it “embedded a tremendous voice in an otherworldly, shadowy soundscape.”
With her gift for wonderfully evocative lyrical imagery, delivered with a compelling voice, it’s easy to foresee that Halstead’s unfettered songwriting will continue to rise.