Americana singer and songwriter Mary Bragg‘s press biography relates that having found some success writing songs for others, she had in mind not to do any more recording of her own. Only yesterday we learned of a new songwriting honor for the Georgia native: she just won MerleFest‘s Chris Austin Songwriting Contest in the country category.
But it would have been a darn shame if she’d stuck to songwriting only. We would never have heard her glorious vocals on the 10 tracks on her new album Lucky Strike. Or most of the fine songs either, probably.
With a voice like a clear mountain stream, rippled with emotion and swirled with a hint of gold-dust gravel, she infuses each song with a panful of passion quickened by intelligent lyrics and resonant melodies, all backed up by superb musicianship and production.
Like a true Nashville artist (though transplanted, like so many), Bragg credits a co-writer on nearly every song. I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover that some of the strongest bear the mark of Becky Warren of The Great Unknowns, whose first album remains among my favorites in the Americana genre. These include the swampy, hard-hitting “Bayou Lullaby” and the ballad “Comet.”
On “Bayou Lullaby,” Bragg sings with an uncharacteristic lazy drawl and studio effects that make some of the lyrics hard to understand, but the dark theme is infused in the sound. Its elemental bluesy stomp couldn’t be much more different from the gentle acoustic guitar and soft melodic meanderings of “Comet.” There’s plenty of variety throughout the album, but Bragg’s silky voice and assured writing tie it all together.
The catchy country number “Think About Me” (co-writer Bruce Wallace) could be a hit for any big-name country singer. But it’s hard to imagine anyone sounding better than Bragg does on it, with her full-throated yet sweetly calibrated liquid attack.
“Wreck and Ruin,” a catchy mid-tempo country-rocker, smooth but with a hint of grit, contrasts with the milky-soft yet electrically tense “Drifter’s Hymn,” which reaches out to the lost soul in all of us: “Lay down here for just a spell/My trail is a whisper/I’m just a drifter.”
That track’s exquisite guitar and keyboard work gives way to the simple strum of “Isn’t It Over Yet.” Then the title track builds from a low-key thrum to an implacable, edgy electric-guitar juggernaut. And Bragg’s haunting vocals evoke Patty Griffin’s tragic tones in the pounding “Done Ain’t Done,” and again in the gentle ballad “Empty Handed.”
“Over and over, I question whether I really have it in me,” Bragg writes in the liner notes – “the music, the songs, something that matters enough to be recorded and shared with the world.” Lucky Strike answers definitively in the affirmative. More, please.