Emily Mure – Worth
Though Emily Mure‘s third album Worth has some of the trappings of folk singer-songwriter preciousness – gentle acoustic rhythms, ukelele, and lots of cello (the genre’s “it” instrument) – it rises above stereotype, with songs of subtle directness and vocals of whispery intensity. Straightforward without resorting to cliché, the lyrics address commonplaces of love, friendships, and self-searching in uncommonly precise, plainspoken language that dances on the fringes of poetry.
There’s often a hint of tragedy in Mure’s voice that tinges even some of the positive moments, like the gently soaring chorus of “Come Clean” with its declaration that “I will be free of you.”
The sweetly plaintive frustrated-love song “Roommate’s Predicament” and the easy waltz “Almost Everything” have a country-western lilt that brings Kim Richey to mind. Rootsy strains mingle interestingly with punchy strings in the title track. The pure simplicity of the chord changes of “Cope and Thread” build to sparkling melodic climaxes, and the sad and lovely “Welfare Island” sounds like an old minor-key folk tune from across the sea.
“When we are young we take so much for granted,” sings the regretful narrator of “David.” “I still have your letters / Though I’ve managed to lose so much.” Many of the songs reside in this confessional mode, but Mure gently shapes the sentiments into artistic forms. The repeated line “I left you for fear that you’d leave me” becomes a mournful wail. But, tragic overtones aside, the smooth beauty of the music leaves a happier echo.
Bob Bradshaw – American Echoes
When William Butler Yeats wrote the poem “Among School Children,” I wonder if he imagined how deeply its closing line “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” would percolate into the wider culture. I do feel fairly safe in assuming he didn’t imagine it in a strip-club context. But that’s where Bob Bradshaw references the line in “Exotic Dancers Wanted,” the opening track of his thoughtful seventh album American Echoes.
The song sets an easygoing tone for this collection of deeply imagined folk-pop tunes, most charged with a deceptively hazy, lazy vibe that suggests the cloudy strains of the early ’70s. There’s a little psychedelia, a little California country-western, a little roots-rock (“Weight of the World”), a spadeful of New York City grit. But there’s also a European flavor in the way the melody sneaks in to “Meet Me,” one of the album’s stellar tracks. And the lyrics of the barroom ditty “A Bird Never Flew on Just One Wing” feel right at home sung by an Irish-born, Boston-based singer-songwriter, while the music evokes the Brit-folk of Richard Thompson.
Bradshaw sounds a bit like Elvis Costello on the silvery folk-waltz “Stella” and on the bluesy, old-timey “My Double and I,” the latter echoing Costello’s “Let ’em Dangle.” Hendrix-esque slide guitar and wry, minimalist lyrics help make “O Brother” a compact gem.
Comparisons are fun for a reviewer to come up with. But Bradshaw has developed a distinctive voice of his own over an extensive career. American Echoes shows a singer, songwriter, and bandleader in full command of his muse.
American Echoes comes out Oct. 20.