For anyone who’s ever seen the Los Angeles based singer Jonneine Zapata play a live show, her presence can be daunting. As if she’s channeling the very ghost of Jim Morrison, she has a stare that will cut through an audience as she plays with an intensity that is noticeable from the beginning and that lasts right up to the final notes of the performance. This goes hand in hand with the kind of music she writes and plays, and her debut album Cast The Demons Out, an intensive, bluesy cycle of songs, each of which seem to be an attempt at casting out the aforementioned demons.
Zapata opens the record with an adjuration for love, and a later admission of “I’m good looking, you’re good looking, what are we gonna do?” over tight drums and a quiet electric guitar. The instrumentals are sparse but don’t feel incomplete, and the themes of betrayal, insecurity and sadness as well as attempts to confront and address these things line up with the tones of the minimal percussion, withdrawn guitars and pleading vocals. The easy comparison here is PJ Harvey, more so for the visceral songwriting and smoky vocals than the actual construction of the songs.
The album is consistent throughout, what you hear from the beginning is what you get all the way through to the bonus track at the end of the record: Zapata’s gorgeous singing lead by a strong-willed guitar. For a moment it almost teeters on the edge of being too slow and drab, the momentum comes to a stand-still just over half way through on the trifling “Bandit” and towards the end on the elongated “Cowboy”, but it recaptures its husky spirit on “Out In The Woods” before it’s finished. Eleven mostly repetitious songs seem to be just enough to get Zapata’s concepts across and allowing for the occasionally stagnant track.
What eventually makes Cast The Demons Out so fascinating is precisely what its title commands: the end of the record is hopeful, seeming to indicate that the emotional journey therein has been successful rather than simply self-indulgent brooding. “And the winter is a beast/rest is what we need/come again, spring/with a new family…” leads us to believe that all the fighting with these particular demons was worth it. This time around, the tone was bleak and cold, very much an album for the winter months. But spring is around the corner, and whether Zapata handles that as eloquently as she handled the gloominess before it will undoubtedly decide her future as either a good singer/songwriter or a great one.