Trevor Sensor's "Texas Girl and Jesus Christ"
By Mandi Kimes
Jagjaguwar’s newest prince of folk singer-songwriter royalty is Trevor Sensor, the 22-year-old English major from Illinois whose distinctive burr of a voice sounds aged decades beyond his years, and it’s even more apparent on his debut album, Texas Girl and Jesus Christ. The rest of Sensor’s music follows suit, with timeless-sounding melodies and a sense of songwriting that exudes maturity while still feeling fresh. While possessing an affinity for writers ranging from Marcel Proust to Dave Eggers, Sensor crafts lyrical atmospheres stuffed with confessional lines that leave a mark and visual allusions that aren’t easily shaken. “If I’m trying to do anything, it’s to be sincere," Sensor says about his songwriting approach. “A lot of singer-songwriters today are oriented in irony. It’s cooler to be lackadaisical rather than to try to be compelling.”
Starting off the album is title track “Texas Girl and Jesus Christ,” and you’ll soon find out that it’s the only upbeat song on the album. The guitar plucks away at a jig, setting the tone for the dance that’s about to come. Sensor’s voice gives off the sense of Kristian Matsson from The Tallest Man On Earth with his snarly tenor timbre. This tune is the perfect bar anthem, especially when the band kicks into full gear at 1:54 to a raucous, swinging dance floor at a country tavern. You want to believe Sensor when he says “I wanna know what love means,” as if he’s singing to a girl across the room, too afraid to approach her. He even adds a little nod to Texas’ age-old myth “Bigger is better even from the heart.”
“Swallows Sing a Song” gives off a vibe similar to Sufjan Stevens’ “The Only Thing” from his Carrie & Lowell album: same key, same guitar strum pattern, similar lyrics regarding a dying mother. “I wanna be a child of my own boring land, away from all these things // Like the pills that were supposed to make me be good ruined everything,” Sensor sings as though he’s tearing out a page of his journal for the world to hear. This is essentially Sensor’s confession song: he drinks too much, he takes medication (what I assume to be anti-depressants) to fix his “issues” that don’t seem to work, and how it’s hard to tell the truth from the lies.
Midway through the album is “Satan’s Man,” the dark, bluesy Tom Waits-sounding song with its train station feel. The lyrics speak of the act of redemption and how temptation and sin can take over a body that’s been “kissed by Jesus Christ.” He’s haunted by a past life that visits him in his darkest moments that question his foundation in faith. Sensor’s songwriting is absolutely gut-wrenching, as it hits home some of the familiar feelings and ideas of depression, temptation, and a battle with doing what’s right and wrong and the existential guilt you feel with the wrong that you’ve committed.
If the last song didn’t make you weep, get ready: “Nothing Is Fair” is about the shooting of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man who was fatally shot eight times and killed by South Carolina police officer Michael Slager. The song starts with “Saw something today that made me cry // 50 years old, too young to die // Shot by a man who’ll never get caught // But who decided to give him a gun?” This song is the most political on the album, as he sings about gun violence, police brutality, the disbelief of “a country that is free,” and being “so damn scared for my generation.” In an age where gun violence and police brutality are at the forefront of most debates, this song serves as an important homage to Scott, as Sensor states “I wrote this song for Walter Scott // ‘cause I’m not a jury that can be bought.” What compelled Sensor to write about Scott, I’m not sure; but I’m glad he did.
Ending the album is “Pacing the Cage,” a cover of Bruce Cockburn’s song. The song is just Sensor at a piano, and it’s a powerful palette cleanser, channeling bits of Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind.” Sensor states that “I think, basically, it’s one of the greatest songs ever written. I immediately identified with it as soon as I heard the line ‘Sometimes you feel like you live too long, days drip slowly on the drip’.” His voice soars and reaches its peak during this song and you can tell that this is a song that really means a lot to him; the kind of song that when it comes on, he pauses and just sits and listens (we all have those songs).
The album ends with a fading atmospheric whirr, as if the needle clicks up from the record player, you sit there digesting everything that’s been thrown at you during the last twenty minutes. It’s only five songs, but it’s a perfect introduction to Sensor’s work: not too much to overwhelm you, but still leaves you wanting more. What other stories are lurking up in his curly head? What other confessions haunt him that he can spill out to his listeners? For now, we have these five songs, with bits and pieces of talented lyrics and composers The Tallest man On Earth, Sufjan Stevens, and even a bit of wandering traveler Bob Dylan. If you’re in the Midwest, well lucky for you, because Sensor is hitting the road with The Staves and you better have a damn good excuse for missing that show.