Today, Jessi McNeal has released her new LP The Driveway. Billboard Magazine, which premiered The Driveway this week, called the album “reflective.” “That’s definitely how I process life: pen and guitar in hand,” McNeal told Billboard. “I was letting the songs come. I let the pile emerge and then started looking and going, ‘What’s the overarching theme here?’ and then, ‘Which songs fit with that theme?’ Definitely the overall theme was transition and being in the middle of some really hard stuff, not knowing how or when it’s going to wrap up – and being OK with that waiting. I think you can hear that in a lot of the songs.”
The album encompasses stories that illustrate the idea that McNeal calls the “messy” middle. “I feel like the overarching theme of the album is really about the middle ground – the in-between, the waiting, the hope-not-yet seen,” McNeal told Wide Open Country. “I sometimes hear people refer to it as the ‘messy middle,’ but lately, I’ve been thinking of it as the ‘sacred middle.’ Brené Brown says, ‘owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.’ This isn’t easy work and I’m certainly no expert on it, but I’m grateful for the people in my life who have encouraged me to avoid taking shortcuts through pain when I’ve faced seasons like this.”
Watch “Won’t Run Dry”
Watch “In Between”
Watch “The Driveway”
Americana, bluegrass, and folk traditions are present and alive in her lyrics and music, as the imagery and landscapes of country life weave their way into her songs. Her sound is comforting and inviting, though she doesn’t shy away from the difficulties and struggles of life’s journey, instead, using songwriting as a soothing balm for many wounds, creating songs rimmed in redemption. In the premiere of album track “Out Of Reach,” McNeal told The Bluegrass Situation that she is “trying to rest more in what I know to be true as opposed to getting hung up on all of the possibilities and worst-case scenarios when I’m facing a decision.” With its darker tonal palette and simple, unfussy production, the album’s songs swirl with pedal and lap steel, vibe-y electric guitar, and banjo and mandolin, providing well-placed levity in some of the album’s darker corners.
Raised in rural Washington state in the log house built by her parents, McNeal has been singing and writing songs in some shape or form for most of her life. Simple hymns and old country tunes formed the soundtrack of her childhood, and her ear for melody and love of storytelling developed at an early age. While The Driveway was created during a period of transition and encompasses heavier subjects like death, loss, houses on fire, and the push and pull of relationships, the songs are reflective and rimmed in hope and optimism, uplifting in tone and tender in their delivery. The album’s title track is her take on the story of the prodigal son; “I’ve come to see myself at times like the father and at times like the son,” she explains. “I want to be the one who comes running, and I also want to be the one who falls into forgiving arms. And here’s the real truth – sometimes those arms of forgiveness and grace need to be my very own.”
“The driveway on our property isn’t long, but it still feels like a sacred space between the world and home,” she continues. “I think we all need a bit of easement in our lives where we give ourselves permission to just be, without all of the pressure and demands that life can place on us – a place where we can have let ourselves have all those gut-level feelings about waiting and loss and transition. If we speed through those emotions, we’re going to miss a lot of things, mostly ourselves. Lately, I’m savoring those slow walks to fetch the mail, and I’m feeling a whole lot of grace to just be right where I am in my own unfolding story.”