In Review: A Look At Eau Claire Folk Pop & Roots Singer-Songwriter Jerrika Mighelle & Her New Album ‘Brightest Star’

Family is the foundation of who we are. 

Jerrika Mighelle can tell you, as the middle child of eight, that large families especially have a tight sense of community. And when her mom passed away, the devastation was particularly intense, the aftermath of which she channeled into her highly-anticipated sophomore album Brightest Star.

The Americana singer-songwriter, who draws from roots, rock, and folk as well, has found the outlet of writing music to be vital in her mourning. When Music Mecca sat down with her last week, she shared, “I had nothing for comfort except my guitar, and my music, and that was beautiful therapy. I began writing songs as they helped me process the enormous events taking place in my life and sadness.”

Inspiration from her idols Patty Griffin and Tracy Chapman can be heard through Mighelle’s dynamic vocals and empowering image. Her songs have well-developed percussion, which likely can be attributed to her musical start on the West African hand drum or djembe. 

A modest seven songs long, the album is a thorough and beautiful dedication to someone who shaped and supported her. 

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Brightest Star kick-starts with the gritty, vocal-centric song “Trouble.” With a strong alternative rock sound about it, it also bears a country-like sass as she lets herself loose, passionately howling in a way that emphasizes the raw and wild side of the song. Chosen as the first single in promotion for the album back in December, “Trouble” was entrusted with capturing fans’ attention and interest both on the record itself, and creating anticipation for its release. Powerful and anthemic, it was a wise decision.

Though its follow-up, “Banks on the River,” is a much slower, more melancholy song, they transition well, with an easing introduction backed by steady percussion. The reflective narrative is more in line with the rest of the record, addressing her emotional journey of coping with the absence of her mother, whom she lived with prior to her passing. “Banks on the River” remembers specific memories and questions how she can move on and adjust to the new void in her life.

“Grief Song” is surprisingly upbeat despite its name. The spooky intro blends into a misleadingly percussive and fast-paced instrumental, which harshly juxtaposes with sullen harmonies of “I’m broken and I’ve lost my fire, I’ve lost all desire”. Mighelle was in “the depths of her sadness” when she wrote the song. “I remember sitting on the floor staring at a bookshelf,” she shared when we spoke with her, “but that’s the only memory of me I have writing it—I don’t remember the rest of it.”

The album takes a positive swing again with the more relatively cheerful “With or Without You.” In this song, she appears to be in an accepting stage of grief, picking herself up and moving forward. Playful and uplifting, the song displays a hopeful message, reassuring the listener, “Don’t you worry, I’m going to be fine.”

The catchy fourth track, “Oh Mama,” is a song Jerrika Mighelle says has received some of the best feedback when played live. Bold and repetitive, the chant-like nature of the song certainly makes it singable for audiences with a boot-stomping, head-swaying rhythm backing it. Another song with strong rock influence, it has a gravelly edge that comes from her authoritative vocals and the distorted electric guitar.

The title track “Brightest Star,” is a sweet ode to her mother, with an inquisitive and wistful message that retains a captivating melody. “When you come back, how will I know it’s you? How do I reach you?” she wonders in the song. Her mother spoke about how a person’s energy never dies, so Mighelle is looking out to find signs of her mother’s return.

“One Night” rounds out the album with a gentle and fitting ending. Filled with soft voices, heartfelt harmonies, and a silky instrumental, it is a sleepy easing out of the emotionally-intense rest of Brightest Star, returning the listener to reality peacefully.* It has a generous thirty-second-long outro with ambient sounds and a focus on the bass that gives the collection a feeling of completion without abrupt suddenness.

To add to the personal nature of the album, the entirety of it was recorded and produced in her hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Previous collaborator Evan Middlesworth and old friend Shane Leonard were heavily involved in bringing these songs to life, both who are local to Eau Claire as well.

Mighelle celebrated Brightest Star’s release Thursday night, February 25, with a live show at Pablo Center at the Confluence for the Arts debuting on the Pablo Streams Series. The Pablo Streams cultural performances are free.

The Pablo Streams performance will be rebroadcast the following day in its entirety at Folk Alliance International Folk Unlocked, for Jerrika Mighelle’s Artist Showcase today, February 26, at 9:00AM CST. The Folk Unlocked Virtual Conference is open this year, for everyone to watch.

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