Jessica Hernandez stares back at you from the cover of her debut album, not unlike the Mona Lisa with her inscrutable smile. In the primed-for-Instagram pic (the Walden filter could surely add that halo of blue) Hernandez sports a Sister Wives bun and a prairie shirt of which Laura Ingalls Wilder would certainly approve. Her attire screams sugar and spice and everything nice, but that smirk, well, that smirk is more in line with the album’s title, Secret Evil.
Not that Hernandez is keeping her evil ways such a secret. She’s practically flaunting them on the second track, “Sorry I Stole Your Man.” Though, it’s more like, sorry, not sorry I stole your man, since Hernandez has no remorse for this other woman with short arms and no sense.
With help from her band, The Deltas—guitarist Michael Krygier, bassist Steve Lehane, keyboardist/accordion player Taylor Pierson, trombonist John Ralleh and drummer Stephen Stetson—Hernandez slinks her way through the rockabilly kiss-off with the same confidence Screamin’ Jay Hawkins had as he swore he’d put a spell on us. This guy is Hernandez’s and she’s not giving him back anytime soon.
Of course, enigma that she is, Hernandez already lets us know that it’s "Over" four tracks later with the one-word, foot-stomping, you're-too-good-for-him-anyway anthem that will be the perfect complement to Robyn's "Dancing On My Own" on any single lady's party playlist.
The Detroit songstress who toughed out two years and one record label to release her debut tries to do a lot in 11 tracks, tackling jazz, surf, cabaret, indie pop and garage rock, just to name a few. She is at her best when she’s doing her rock ‘n’ soul thing with a touch of true grit. On the rather spooky “Tired Oak,” the Deltas bring out the organ and Hernandez shows off her vibrato to call out a no-good lyin’ ex, while the electric guitar-laced “Caught Up” has her scolding herself for the lies she’s told.
Though it’s less than 40 minutes, there are tracks near the end of the album (the rather mundane “Neck Tattoo,” the musical revue cast-off “Downtown Man”) that are worth skipping. But don’t give up before you get to closing track, “Lovers First,” an intimate ballad that shows off Hernandez’s storytelling ability.
It starts with Hernandez begging her ex-lover to take her back, before making it clear that she’s already wasted too much time waiting around for him to reconsider. Like Ariana Grande, another brunette who might be a little more evil than she lets on, Hernandez now has one less problem without him. - Shannon Carlin
Secret Evil is out now on Instant Records and is available on iTunes!