Leah Hayes will not change your life, but she will make you grateful for its sorrows, for its melancholy, endless Saturday afternoons, for its disappointments that never fail to disappoint. Hayes is the singer and guitarist for the trio Scary Mansion, but from all appearances (MySpace page, YouTube videos, etc.) the group is generally hers alone — bandmates Bradley Banks (bass) and Ben Shapiro (drums) primarily arrangers of her intense dreams and longings. Blessed with a beautiful face, a wiry body and long, straight black hair, Hayes recalls the naked fragility of a Laura Nyro, a frame and psyche so sensitive and absorbent that the day-to-day can seem monumental.
Every Joke Is Half the Truth certainly hints at this, from the defeatist title to the beautiful shells of songs that Hayes so convincingly sings. The best tracks on Every Joke — of which there are many — place Hayes 'not-great voice in the spotlight, her cracks and reaches evoking Will Oldham and early Cat Power. In particular, there's the brief but striking "Intro" (which is track seven: clever!), the angry "Sorry We Took All Your Money" (as pop as she ever gets) and "Go To Hell," my personal favorite, a nothing-special song that Hayes makes remarkable with the threadbare tatters of her beaten-down voice. Again: nothing revolutionary, nothing life-changing, but special nonetheless.