With Reckless Burning, their 2002 debut, Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter elicited gushing comparisons to such slo-core practitioners as the Cowboy Junkies, Mazzy Star and Low. Those are all apt reference points, to be sure, but Sykes’ sound — languid, ethereal, and spiced with echoey forebodings just this side of spaghetti-western twang — is more distinctive than derivative.
Oh, My Girl is cut mostly from the same stylistic cloth as the debut, and that’s an altogether good thing. While the emphasis continues to be on pastoral tempos and broken-glass lyrics (“Your Eyes Told”; “Grow A New Heart”), Sykes and her bandmates venture outside the hushed ambiance at moments that are perfectly placed to give the focus a renewed kick.
“Troubled Soul”, for instance, boasts a pop-oriented chorus fitted with airy vocal harmonies and a bouncy staccato organ. Elsewhere, as on “The Dreaming Dead” and “Tell The Boys”, guitarist Phil Wandscher unleashes serpentine runs right out of the Crazy Horse songbook.
Still, Sykes’ enchanting soprano works best when it’s housed in haunted music settings. Wandscher, who cut his teeth as a charter member of Whiskeytown, rightly gets the lion’s share of credit for framing Sykes’ dark ruminations in a candlelit vibe, but the other players are nearly as indispensable. Walkabouts violinist Anne Marie Ruljancich, in particular, adds elegance to the arrangements, especially on such glacially paced ballads as “Birds Over Water” and “Winter Hunter”.