Jacye Guerin, a skilled songwriter and passionate singer from Plaquemine in Iberville Parish, goes all out for her album debut. That Was Then presents 13 mostly Southern soul–style original songs co-written by Guerin and Andreas Werner, the Swiss-born Nashville and Muscle Shoals–based producer who’s worked with Bettye LaVette, Clarence Carter, Patterson Hood, Tony Joe White and many more.
Werner surrounds Guerin’s usually gritty vocals with tastefully full arrangements featuring the Muscle Shoals Horns, Muscle Shoals All-Stars and Nashville String Machine. David Hood, bass, and Clayton Ivey, Wurlitzer electric piano, are among the stellar session musicians who played for this made-in-Muscle Shoals-and-Nashville project.
Guerin’s music hits a spot between Melissa Etheridge, Janis Joplin, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the soul music that emanated from Muscle Shoals and Memphis in the 1960s and ’70s. Louisiana and New Orleans influences show up, too.
Album opener “Who’s Gonna Save Me” digs into such rootsy influences as New Orleans’ subdudes and the R&B-inspired Leon Russell and Joe Cocker. Accompanied by background vocalists the Shoals Sisters, Guerin sings “Who’s Gonna Save Me” with her usual fearlessness. Another heartfelt ballad, “Fire and Gasoline,” receives a classy treatment featuring a string quartet and Clayton Ivey’s world-class electric piano work.
Guerin’s sincerity also sells “Love You.” This ballad boasts Will McFarlane’s gently cascading electric guitar and nearly religious solemnity from the Muscle Shoals Horns. Turning to funky soul, “Mystic Woman” finds Guerin at her grittiest. Although heartache makes itself known on the album, the horns-filled “Baby Come Close” is a happy love song accented by that repeating, one-note dot-dot-dot, dot-dot, dot-dot staccato figure so common in vintage R&B from New Orleans.
The missing-someone-bad sentiment and saxophone solo in “London” make it the ideal song for slow-dancing couples on a Louisiana dancefloor. Nonetheless, “Into the Midnight Hour” is the album’s most intimate selection. It’s also Guerin’s sweetest, most tender performance, a direction she may do well to further explore. The school of edgy Southern woman vocalist is already well spoken for.
Guerin ends That Was Then with the extroverted “Little Bird,” a song seasoned by New Orleans traditional jazz and featuring collective trumpet, trombone and clarinet soloing. She has released an impressive debut.