“Connection with Everything”: Darren Jessee Shines on ‘Central Bridge’, His Lyrical, Tuneful, & Captivating Third LP

Darren Jessee © Dustin Condren
Darren Jessee © Dustin Condren
A radiant, inspiring record of reflection and reverie, singer/songwriter Darren Jessee’s third LP ‘Central Bridge’ is heartfelt, hopeful, and human to the core: A source of comfort, of catharsis, and ultimately, of connection.
for fans of Wilco, Sharon Van Etten, The National
Stream: “Wild Ascending Blue” – Darren Jessee

Now the stars are all awash in my brutal blue collage; how could I hold you when you’re just a mirage?

At the heart of Darren Jessee’s third solo album is an intimate search for connection.

If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that our connections to people and to our surroundings are sacred; in some instances, they’re all we have, and they’re worth fostering and cherishing with all our might. Jessee’s music has always carried with it a sense of contemplative warmth – as a singer/songwriter, he has proved himself “an expert in capturing the beauty, bliss, and grandeur of quiet moments,” we wrote back in 2020 – but never has he sounded this wide-eyed and open-hearted. A radiant, inspiring folk rock record of reflection and reverie, connection and creation, Central Bridge is heartfelt, hopeful, and human to the core.

Central Bridge - Darren Jessee
Central Bridge – Darren Jessee
It’s gonna take time, the fox tells me
Before I’m through the hills
First thaw of spring
Clear-eyed chasing
It’s gonna take love, the trees tell me
You’re gone too soon
“I’m two hundred today, see my branches sway?”
There you go, e
ild and ascending blue
It’s gonna take time, the hawk tells me
Before I’m flying free above everything
Clear-eyed soaring

There you go, wild and ascending blue
All you knew left to be discovered new
There you go, wild and ascending blue
– “Wild Ascending Blue,” Darren Jesse

Released March 24, 2023 via Bar/None Records, Central Bridge is an elegant enchantment brimming with bright energy, raw passion, and sweetly stirring emotion. Darren Jessee’s third solo album in five years’ time sees the Durham, North Carolina-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist turning toward the light and basking in the things that make life worth living.

Central Bridge is looking for life after the pandemic, looking for connections and to be connected through the heart and not just through the mind,” Jessee says. “To really feel your connection with everything, whether it’s nature or other people.”

Darren Jessee © Dustin Condren
Darren Jessee © Dustin Condren

A presence within the music industry since the late ’90s, Darren Jessee has over 25 years’ experience in making and sharing music with the world: In addition to being a founding member of Ben Folds Five, he has released his own music under the moniker Hotel Lights since 2004. He is a former full-time member of Durham band Hiss Golden Messenger, he played drums in support of Sharon Van Etten’s 2014 record Are We There, and he contributed to The War on Drugs’ Grammy Award-winning 2017 album A Deeper Understanding – to name a few of the many notches in his belt.

Atwood Magazine has been closely following Jessee’s solo career since its inception. “Behind a beautiful sea of poetry and lush, romantic stringed orchestrations lies a man, exposed, with his guitar,” we wrote of his 2018 debut album The Jane, Room 217. “Jessee’s defining characteristic… is his willingness to crack himself wide open. He surrenders his doubts, his fears, and in truth his full inner monologue in whispered lullabies emanating with frightening energy.”

The tender, quiet tempest Remover arrived two years later in 2020; a soft soundtrack to inner reckoning, Jessee’s sophomore album was and remains stirringly tender and gorgeously cinematic: “Unassuming and humble, it’s a welcome breath of life that fills every room and touches every heart – especially the lonesome ones,” we wrote in our album premiere. “Remover embraces reflection and explores emotion through a visceral sonic environment full of life, vulnerability, and raw humanity.”

Central Bridge finds Jessee building upon the best parts of his first two albums whilst simultaneously expanding his own world. Reflecting on his past works, he says, “The Jane Rm 217 is sparse and intimate. Trey Pollard quietly did some of his best string arranging on this album. I can sometimes hear the air in my old apartment when there’s a street noise through the window of the room. It still breaks my heart.” Meanwhile, “Remover is full sounding with cinematic swells. It was a natural progression. It reintroduces a rhythm section to my songs pointing back to Hotel Lights. The recording itself is quite beautiful and often surprises me when I hear it. It was mixed by Alan Weatherhead.”

In comparison, “Central Bridge has a bit more energy and more low key hooks. It’s also lyrical, and I tried writing in a sense of wonder and feelings of connection to nature and people. Songs like “Mirage” and “I Live in Your Old Hometown” will feel familiar to fans of my songs.”

It introduces me by re-introducing me. It captures my artistry by recording my songs with the right spirit and intention.

A little piece of the sun broke off
Into life and here you are
Sneaking into the hotel bar
Pulling my arm all the way
Did the heavens say
Do do do do do …
Hanging with my baby
A perfect sunbeam
There’s nothing we can’t do
When I look at you

Central Bridge was born out of a period of re-discovery and awakening.

“My last album Remover was released in 2020 and felt a bit lost in the chaos of that time,” Jessee tells Atwood Magazine. “I found new inspiration after the most intense times of the pandemic and I felt a lot of gratitude. I had moved on from the wounded coyote that made Remover compelling and found a new vibe I wanted to explore lyrically. I had been spending a lot of time in nature and visiting expansive places like Maine and West Texas and I think that open space showed up in the melodies and landscape of the music as well. The album cover, a painting by artist Abby Brown, reflects this connection to everything.”

“I recorded new songs in batches of three or four every few months with producer Alan Weatherhead (Sparklehorse, Hotel Lights) at my house. It’s interesting to record a song in the same space it was written. It maintains the home 4-tracker headspace I’ve had since The Jane, Room 217, but now it’s really well recorded. We leaned into finishing the songs that worked best together and went after making a compelling album experience – which is really what we have been aiming for on all these albums.”

For Jessee, the end goal is simple.

“I’ve only really ever hoped that people would actually hear my songs. I’m always going to do my best with every recording I am a part of. When we start recording we’re creating something we like hearing as we work on it. I usually don’t know what the vision is until there are a few recorded tracks to contrast each other.”

He chose the album title Central Bridge “because it reflected my intention with these songs to connect to music fans via the magical portal of melodies.”

Darren Jessee © Dustin Condren
Darren Jessee © Dustin Condren

That connection began last year with the release of the album’s dazzling lead single “Mirage,” an expansive and mesmerizing ballad that builds up and out from a tender, unassuming base of piano and vocals. Before we know it, grand, sweeping orchestral strings and glistening guitars have grown this tender song into a captivating, emotionally impactful force of introspection, nostalgia, and longing.

“I was at the grocery store thinking about a friend who is a moving target emotionally,” Jessee explains. “‘Mirage’ is beyond reach and disappearing, a dream within a dream. A fleeting moment lost in the patchwork of friendships and a yearning for love that’s not really there.” He sings wistfully:

I loved you even when I was ruining it
When I was lost in the palm of your hand
Walked down the empty
Cobblestone streets
Shared a jacket high out on the beach
Now the stars are all awash
In my brutal blue collage
How could I hold you when you’re just a mirage?
Laundry out on the line, waves in the alleyway
A white cat walked up to you
You were burning brighter
Pockets full of sand
My hand stained with ink
They’re not the woman she was raised to be
Now the sun is going down
In your brutal blue collage
How could I hold you when you’re just a mirage?

It’s hard for him to put into words exactly why this single led things off, but for Jessee, “Mirage” felt like a fitting introduction to his album. It’s certainly a fitting bridge between past and present – both lyrically and sonically.

“It’s always a decision on “singles” for me,” Jessee admits, “because the big reward is the album experience itself and how all the songs pull at each other and establish a vibe and sense of storytelling and landscape that needs the LP format to really hit home.”

From the golden opener “Love and Thanks” and the endearing, dramatic “Will That Be Enough,” to the beautifully sun-kissed “Wild Ascending Blue” and the hushed, smoldering seduction “Sunbeam,” Central Bridge is full of moments that will soothe, stir, and uplift, and inspire. “‘I Live in Your Old Hometown’ is a current favorite, as is ‘Wild Ascending Blue,'” Jessee reflects. “‘Riding the Horses’ and ‘Mirage’ are personal highlights, as is the album experience itself. It’s a beautiful pressing on vinyl.”

Ever the expressive lyricist, Jessee offers a few of his favorite lyrics below:

I believe in love now”  – “Riding the Horses”
The stars are all awash in my brutal blue collage, how could I hold you when you’re just a mirage, hm?”  – “Mirage”
When you’re in the spotlight, will you be alright?” – “Will That Be Enough”
It’s gonna take love, the trees tells me, you’re gone too soon, I’m 200 today, see my branches sway” – “Wild Ascending Blue”
A little piece of the sun broke off, into life and here you are” – “Sunbeam”

Wherever and however you find it, there is plenty of light to go around throughout Central Bridge. Darren Jessee’s third album is his most enchanting offering to date, and yet another display of his prowess not merely as a songwriter, but as a weaver of wonders.

Darren Jessee © Dustin Condren
Darren Jessee © Dustin Condren

Like a dream come to life, Central Bridge is a source of comfort, of catharsis, and ultimately, of connection.

“I hope folks enjoy listening to it and share with friends, and playlist it and get involved with the music somehow,” Jessee shares. “I’ve taken away a sense of wonder and positive energy from creating it. So many friends and people have been so nice about it.”

Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Darren Jessee’s Central Bridge with Atwood Magazine as he goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of his third solo album!

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:: stream/purchase Central Bridge here ::
Stream: ‘Central Bridge’ – Darren Jessee

:: Inside Central Bridge ::

Central Bridge - Darren Jessee

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“Love and Thanks”

I like names in songs. I could see Waylon Jennings’ Dreaming My Dreams LP by my turntable. I started thinking about his voice and how it was one of my favorite singing voices growing up. It has a universe in it. His face looked like it belonged on Mount Rushmore. I felt an impulse to give thanks to songwriters who inspired me and relationships that shaped my life in music.

“Will That Be Enough”

This was the first song I wrote for the album. It asks the question when you’re in the spotlight, will you be alright?  The chord rhythm in the chorus is loosely George Harrison inspired to support the lyric, will that be enough, when you get what you want?

“Getting Close”

Later in the song the chorus lyric changes from I know I’m getting close to I know we’re getting close, and it has a sweetness to it that reminds me of songs I heard on college radio in the late 80s. Jay Brown (Hotel Lights / Tift Merritt) plays bass. Alan Weatherhead arranged it.

“Wild Ascending Blue”

I wrote this in open D and it created an interesting tonality. The lyrics are connecting with the natural world and getting support from the natural world. It’s the emotional center of the album. Trey Pollard did the string arrangement.

“Riding the Horses”

This song is partly expressing that feeling you have when you run off and are really truly free. It takes courage and a certain wildness. The main character is a reflection in the window, a conversation on a jet, Sneaking out of somewhere, just passing through, a cloud in the sky, a runaway bride.

“Baby Don’t Love You”

The original lyric had me buying ice cream late night at the grocery store. It’s the daze you’re in when a relationship goes cold.


The great Stuart Bogie on sax. This song captures the feeling of falling in love late summer in a tourist town.


This is the last song I wrote for the album. I was looking for an emotional tone to complete the album. It may have ended up being the centerpiece.  The mix is great, that’s Alan Weatherhead.

“I Live In Your Old Hometown”

Alan said even the title is sad. I was talking on the phone with my friend Johnny Irion and he asked where I was living. “I live in your old hometown,” I said. Which I do, Johnny is from Durham. There was a pregnant pause then he said, “that sounds like a song title.”

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:: stream/purchase Central Bridge here ::

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Central Bridge - Darren Jessee

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? © Dustin Condren

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