Folk is such an intimate genre, it can seem like it needs to be as hushed, cryptic, and confined as possible in order to have any effect. The largest part of For Emma, Forever Ago’s mythology is Justin Vernon recording it in his father’s cabin during the winter, but the icy isolation came not only from the sparse recordings and Vernon’s beleaguered voice but also how unspecific his words were. Whatever happened, he was willing to “talk” about it, but he wasn’t willing to actually talk about it. Time wasn’t yet healing his wounds; it hadn’t even begun to suppress the bleeding.

Burlington, Vermont singer-songwriter Henry Jamison also recorded his debut album, The Wilds, rather remotely, in the tiny town of Goshen, but he has much more specific things to say than Vernon. He gives us true-to-life narratives with some embellishments for the sake of poetry/surreality. In the world created through Jamison’s fragile tone, Lil Wayne, Doris Day, and Edgar Degas are all part of the grand scheme of things. The confines of Goshen don’t restrict him as much as they let him harness his imagination, both through fantasizing and reflecting. He’s thinking retrospectively but also splitting his consciousness between the present and the past.

You can sense the flashback dissolve in Jamison’s words on songs like the title track (“On a rainy day, we took it to a museum/ What did Lolo say, as we tripped into impressionism?”) and the spellbinding ‘The Jacket’ (“She wore a black jacket and a winter sun beat down/ or I guess it was early spring and we were in a park in Chinatown”), but his ponderings are never stuck in place. He moves to the present, considering and carrying over the lessons that might’ve not registered at first glance. Following his viewing of Degas’ ‘Young Woman With Ibis’, he wonders if he “should hear her words.” ‘The Jacket’ references Chinatown in the beginning, but that’s not the point. It’s not a “stranger in a strange land” narrative. By the time the song has ended, Jamison has also been in a grocery store and a sports bar, emotionally detached from the home team’s losing. When he sings of “coming up empty” in terms of words while at the grocery, it’s as though he’s still haunted by it, knowing he’ll never be able to correct it. The Wilds feels like a glimpse inside a mind, not based on typical portrayals of telepathy, but the way people actually think: jumbled thoughts that shift at less than a moment’s notice.

Some songs put us more concretely in the past. On late album cut ‘Varsity’, he delivers most of the lyrics in the present tense, but shifts to past to let us know that the girl he came to pick up while “blasting Lil Weezy” was a “fucking varsity” cheerleader. (Even before this reference, Jamison’s affinity for hip-hop is deducible through his synths and drum programming, which lends some forceful moments, such as the drop after the beginning of ‘Through a Glass’.) Right after, ‘The Last Time I Saw Adrianne’ (a reference to Blue closer ‘The Last Time I Saw Richard’) has him reflect on a lost love as directly as possible, with another reference to “Lolo” and dirge synths. It feels a bit like a closer that got away, not quite able to reproduce the emotive power of the also beautifully-picked opener, ‘Bright and Future’, with an airy quality that doesn’t fit Jamison’s as well as his more tactile arrangements. None of the triumvirate that concludes The Wilds (‘The Last Time I Saw Adrianne’, ‘The Rains’, and ‘No One Told Me’) offer a satisfying resolution, individually decent songs they may be. A brief reprise of an earlier cut might’ve worked better for tying things together.

You want things to work out and get resolved by the end of The Wilds, because you want things to work out and get resolved for Jamison, even outside of the studio. He’s an immensely likeable presence, able to nail self-deprecation and pain in one line (“She had a lot of boyfriends, I count the ones I know”), and also able to give a soaring chorus all the lift it needs without seeming self-conscious on warm-hearted early single ‘Real Peach’ (“Well, if all is fair in love and war/ then I don’t know what we are fighting for”). The Wilds is the work of a man with stories to tell. Thank God, he knows to make songs out of them too.