Review by Floris Groenewald (@flrsi)
Calm before the storm, Jessie Presto’s debut EP, is a welcome “hello world” announcement from someone I haven’t heard of before. Though the internet tells me she’s been around for a while, having studied contemporary music at COPA, and been part of the band Sky Chord, this EP (as well as a recent gig or two around Pretoria) was my first introduction to this singer-songwriter.
Utilising a stripped-down palette of instruments (acoustic guitar and percussion), the EP places Jessie Presto’s vocals at center stage and upfront. This suits her lyric-driven songs perfectly: The stories being told come first, and a pounding of drums with a wall of electric instruments aren’t used to camouflage her vocals.
Speaking of Jessie’s vocals – this girl can sing! The songs might have been selected specifically to show off her singing prowess with specific techniques, yet they don’t seem showy or forced at all. Her vocals, lyrics and melodies on this EP will surely cement her reputation as a solid singer and songwriter. Calm before the storm is, simultaneously, an excellent demonstration of Jessie’s skill and a confident debut.
This collection of eight songs also provides a wide variety of songs and styles. The country song The Preacher’s Son is far removed from the very bluesy Quick Disguise and Twee Vure. Some of her lyrics (e.g. “Jy vat my aan die hand en sê jy gaan altyd daar wees”) and mixed-language phrases like “soos jy ouer word, raak jy meer beautiful” might lean towards the clichés of Afrikaans pop love songs, but that can only be said when pulling a line out of context. The complete songs, and the way Jessie applies familiar imagery to the stories she tells remain effective, functional, and very listenable/enjoyable.
While the EP jumps between genres and languages (five Afrikaans songs, three English), it doesn’t feel separate, removed, or disruptive at all. The tracks work beautifully in the order they are presented on the CD, but also when switched to shuffle, or mixed in with your MP3 collection.
Additionally, with eight songs and a total running time of over 26 minutes, the EP supplies much more music than a lot of EPs – different from the typical “four tracks is all we could afford” debut excuse. Calm before the stormis a worthy stand-alone product, but also a promise of great things still to come!