Billy Jeter’s passionate vision of the human experience, Shine Eye Landing, is going to be one of the defining works of his career, and a highlight for country and folk fans looking for something singing with heart this year. It’s a lean half-hour record that wastes no time and on a musical structure feels almost reminiscent of a stage play.
It’s a very nostalgia-heavy piece that relies on the audience have lived a certain amount of life, but even those who haven’t shared the exact same experiences as Jeter might experience a contorted form of synesthesia with the lush and layered sounds that perfectly capture the experiences of love and loss. Starting with the ambient acoustics of “Orion”, Jeter ponders multiple themes of self-discovery and independence with lines like “We’re gonna walk this path and sing out loud” which almost feels like the album is talking directly to the listener. So many of the songs here have this wonderful structure to them that gives me the suspicion that the live version of this has some thought-provoking interludes to match Jete’s enigmatic voice and lyrics. The titular “Shine Eye Landing” emphasizes the slow strums and plucks of guitars and banjos to set the mood of a time gone by, messages of experience a love like she was “Still in her Sweet 16”, tell you most of what you need to know with a track about the future, but through the lens of childhood excitement.
Going back to the idea that this almost resembles a stage play, “That’s Just the Way We Roll”, feels like it’s about the kids from the last track, now growing up with hard experiences, but it’s painted in such a jovial lens that it becomes an anthem to the free-spirited. “Sins of Me” follows up on this with the explorations of the ramifications of said freedom. Jeter gets startlingly self-aware with the idea that even though he’s transcribed his life experiences into art, that doesn’t absolve him of his misgivings. It’s a dense and thoughtful subversion that goes a long way to add even more substance to an unassuming release. The mixing and mastering on this album are just superb and with the added benefit of listening with headphones for a more intimate experience, you’re able to pick up nuances that might be lost in a larger speaker. Beautiful usage of violin, piano, female backing that echoes like spirits of the past.
All of it builds the album into a painting, almost. “Cut you Down” and “Highwater Blues” are interesting tonal pairs going from a world-weary tired to an almost cutsie folksy gag song with nearly incoherent but vivid imagery. After a playful dissection on a wild woman known as “Spider Lily”, the last three songs, “Song for Walter”, “Oh Lordy Me” and “The Apostle” use the same leitmotif and condense so much of what came before. “The Apostle” ends where life begins with the hopes and dreams of a young Jeter, ready to get out and live life, no matter what comes his way. It’s an affecting, arresting release from a musical veteran who only gets better with each release.