Monday, September 14, 2009

Whatcha Gonna Do by Claire Lynch - CD Review

Claire Lynch’s new CD, Watcha Gonna Do, falls comfortably into the realm of acoustic Americana, its bluegrass, country, folk, blues, and jazz roots showing clearly through in a delightful collection of mostly new songs. She presents a set of twelve songs each chosen to show off her light, friendly, and emotionally subtle voice and the musical versatility of her very fine band. As befits a band whose members have already won five IBMA individual awards and are nominated for an additional two in 2009, the band demonstrates musical depth and variety with plenty of melody and versatility. Lynch builds on her bluegrass and acoustic roots to create an album worth repeated listening and thoughtful appreciation. With a train song, a mine song, a couple of road songs, some light gospel, and an appreciation for rural life and values, Watcha Gonna Do fits easily and comfortably within the bluegrass world while offering lots of opportunities for lovers of other genres to discover and appreciate Claire Lynch’s musical vision.

“Great Day in the Mornin’” opens with Mark Schatz's spry bass run that sets the tone for this appreciation of a beautiful spring morning in the south. Soon Jim Hurst chimes in on guitar as well as Jason Thomas with fiddle. The song celebrates the warmth and glory of each day to get up with the one you love. It has a bouncy tune with the band in harmony and instrumentals supporting the lively lyric. The song opens:
Great day in the mornin’
I got a lot to be thankful for,
Yellow maples, a red roofed barn,
The sun comin’ up
Like a medicine ball.
The lyric celebrates the small pleasures of the happy life, as the singer wakes next to the man she loves. Written by Dana Cooper, the song is a small gem perfectly suited to set the tone for what's to come in this CD.
 The Claire Lynch Band

The next song, “Highway” by Irene Kelley and Claire Lynch, is a woman’s road song. It celebrates healing from a broken romance with hope and strength.
Highway, you don’t know where you’re goin’,
You’re just rollin’ from sea to sea,
Highway, you don’t know ‘bout love,
I guess you could say you’re a lot like me.
The clarity of Hurst’s guitar and the clean transition to Thomas’ fiddle is strong and clear. The song never gives in to self pity or sadness, recognizing the healing in hitting the road and finding whatever emerges. The singer surrenders herself to wherever the highway decides to take her, and it doesn’t know.

“The Mockingbird’s Voice” (Pal Alger & Kent Agee) is a song of false love, the mocking bird a perfect metaphor for the person who says what he thinks you want to hear.
The mockingbird’s voice sounds so sweet,
But he’ll say anything.
Oh, he’ll sit outside the window
And sing to you all day
Try to hold him, he flies away.
When Lynch sings, “When you say forever, what you really mean is never,” her heart breaks and the listener goes right with her, as the fiddle picks up her sorrow and loss on the same note and then goes off on its own to new birdlike heights of escape. The magic of the studio allows Jason Thomas to contribute both effective fiddle and mandolin solos on this piece.

 Jim Hurst

“Face to Face” (Donna Ulisse & Claire Lynch) is an upbeat gospel song that suggests that the moment of meeting ones maker will be a time of instant recognition. The light and bouncy sounds from mandolin and bass accentuate the essentially optimistic tone of this small, but delightful, song. The delicate counterpoint between mandolin and Jim Hurst’s guitar complements both the lyric and Lynch’s voice.

“That’s What Makes You Strong” is a song by singer/songwriter Jesse Winchester, who makes a guest appearance on this cut. This is unusual, because he’s the only performer on the disk who’s not a member of Claire’s regular touring band. His light tenor voice and solid harmony make a pleasant, but not essential, contribution to this song. Jim Hurst on electric guitar also creates a novel sound for this record. The “That” of the song seems to be love growing out of self-knowledge rather than out of need and disappointed loss of trust. Thus love and trust create strength – an empowering concept embedded in a comforting song.

In “Whatcha Gonna Do?” the album's title song, (Russ Paul & Rich Wayland) asks:
When slings and arrows are cuttin’ close to the bone,
And outrageous fortune finds you standing alone,
How you gonna handle you moment of truth,
When the dice double down and the next move is up to you?
While opening with a dark and lowdown sound coming from the depths of Lynch’s voice and exclaiming a sense of desperation, the song rises to a higher plane. The answer is to “Do Whatcha Gonna Do,” that is, one just can’t predict these moments requiring a life changing decision and must trust ourselves to react properly. There’s an element of fear and risk overhanging this song with its minor keys and the guitar solo not providing much in the way of hope. Somewhere, deep in each of our own souls this question tortures each of us. This song doesn’t provide more than the question.
Mark Schatz

“Crazy Train” opens with a powerful bass kickoff and solo from Mark Schatz.
I’ve wasted too much of my precious time,
On this dead-end line.
So Long, I’m gone
The sound of the wheels on the track and the insistent drive of the lyric captures the futility of staying with a straying lover. The bass provides a rolling, clicking feel of a train heading in the wrong direction. The syncopation in Lynch’s voice with the subtle harmony works well as she lets her love continue on the “fast track” and waves good bye. The final verse holds a sense of loss mixed with relief as the fiddle solo fades into the distance.

Garth Brooks and Buddy Mondlock contributed “Canary’s Song” to this album. As usual, the canary stands as a metaphor for the danger of life in the coal mines.
While the mocking bird warbled near the mountain spring,
Down in the mine, a canary sang,
In the deep dark hole, where men didn't belong
We listened to our lives, in a canary’s song.
As long as the canary continues to sing, the hope of life and dreams for the future continue to exist. The mines close, but the singer yearns to return to hear the canary’s song. Futility, fear and loss still hold the singer. The tune carries this haunting sense of loss and promise.

My Florida Sunshine” is a Bill Monroe song with a pleasant rolling beat and a sense of love lost but the warmth of Florida keeping the memories (and feelings) alive. It reminisces for the warmth and beauty of Florida where the singer's love has remained while she has gone on to other things, but not given up on her love who waits for her. In her memory "He's dear and sweet as honey, and will be waiting for me." (Thanks, Claire, for the clarification. Now the song works much better for me.)

 Claire Lynch

“Widow’s Weeds” by Jennifer Kimball and Claire Lynch opens with a very old-timey sound and then erupts into a straight ahead bluegrass song of love lasting beyond the grave. Ivy Simpson’s husband Jesse died three years ago and Ivy still wears her black “widow’s weeds” in his memory. The instrumental, with clawhammer banjo, thumping bass, and dark fiddle contributes to Lynch's voice to create a mornful picture of futility. Because Ivy is still young and pretty, it’s sad to see her “dying on the vine too soon.”
Black, black won’t bring him back,
Jesse was everything she had.
The specter of Jesse’s death and Ivy’s “still clinging to the past” hangs over the lyric and the instrumental of this mountain sounding song.

Song writer Susan Werner has set “Barbed Wire Boys” in the rural Midwest on a farm where “they never complain, no they never made noise” as they cared for the land and families in their strength and silence. The tune sees these Barbed Wire Boys slavery to the land as a triumph of the human spirit seeking to express its love through work and conviction.
Now one by one they’re departing this earth,
And it’s clear to me just what they were worth.
They were just like Atlas holding up the sky,
You never heard him speak, you never heard him cry.
The unexpressed power is what we remember in these strong, silent men who did so much to build the country we’ve inherited. The rich imagery of this fine song has much to capture the imagination of anyone who hears it. One of the best cuts on the very good CD. The music and Lynch’s voice soar to capture the spirit of these folks.
Jason Thomas
“Woods of Sipsey” by Claire Lynch ends this collection on a somber note. The opening guitar notes with bowed bass behind suggest danger along with the references to snakes and dark woods. The woods shut out change and modernity while providing comfort for those who wish to rest forever in familiar ground. The song is an homage to Lynch's grandmother.
The Claire Lynch Band

Claire Lynch's voice in Whatcha Gonna Do is very ably supported by her band, which is the same band you see on the road. Jim Hurst is an acknowledged master of the guitar, whose flat picking ranges from straight bluegrass into the world of jazz and beyond. Mark Schatz on bass establishes a standard of not just maintaining the beat, but taking the instrument to expressive heights of emotional intensity. Jason Thomas, on mandolin and fiddle, while not as well known as his bandmates, belongs in this company and makes wonderful contributions on both instruments. There's hardly enough to be said about Claire Lynch's voice. She communicates honest emotion and intensity with seeming ease, while keeping the song at the forefront. This CD makes a significant addition to any music lover's collection. It is being released by Rounder Records on September 15th.
 Claire Lynch
An abbreviated form of this review appears in the Lonesome Road Review