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Music Review: Sandra McCracken – Gravity/Love

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One of the glories of this job is finding a big fat jewel of an artist among huge chunks of coal. Sandra McCracken is that gem, and her latest album Gravity/Love a shimmering star in a dank evening sky.

McCracken hovers between pop, country, and folk, kind of like what a mad musical scientist would get by combining the extraordinary vocal power of Emmylou Harris, the blindingly elegant instrumentation of Nancy Griffith, and the sassy, bluesy feel of Bonnie Raitt, creating a most delectable monster.

A Missourian transplant in the middle of Music City, Nashville, Tennessee, McCracken weaves beautiful, bittersweet tales that tear away from the conventions of country/folk, and smacks you with a distinguished pop sensibility that is uplifting and sometimes reaches a sonorous spirituality. It’s so far beyond most of what passes for commercial music these days, its difficult to find superlatives to describe it.

Backed by a flurry of fine performers, McCracken alternately prays and wails. Producer Peter Collins, best known for his work with Griffith, Jewel, and Shawn Mullins, adds a gentle hand to the proceedings, inserting subtle orchestrations on sparse songs like “Portadown Station”, while keeping the myriad guitar and rhythm parts down in the mix, always emphasizing McCracken’s lustrous vocals. Lyricist Bleu (William James McCauley III) fashions stories of everymen and women, and throws in a marvelous tribute to late Beatle George Harrison on “Goodbye George”.

The funny thing is, I really wanted to hate this album. After a day of endless runarounds, my temperament is raw and my body is aching. Slamming an up and coming artist would really fulfill my need to be arrogant right now, but I just can’t do it. I’ve listened to this album three times since sitting down to write, and I keep finding new things to admire about it. So, I’ll have to wait and slam some other new artist. Whoever that person is, they have Sandra McCracken to blame for the shitty review they’re about to receive.

Having said that, if you’re a fan of Harris, Griffith, Raitt, or perhaps all three, you’ll find Gravity/Love something to die for. It contains all the rare, balanced elements a hybrid of three popular forms of music should, and McCracken’s voice will massage away your tension and even inspire you into believing whatever ate at you today was worth it just to be embraced by her serenity.

Sandra McCracken may be a diamond in the rough, but she is certainly luminescent. If she can brighten my day, she can brighten anyone’s. And isn’t that what a star is supposed to do?

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