Kathy Muir – Second Life
The real beauty in an album like Kathy Muir’s Second Life is heard in the chances it takes. It might seem like an odd thing to say for an album and artist solidly classified as Americana, but Muir doesn’t always play it safe and that’s a quality setting her some distance apart from many of her contemporaries. The depth of her songwriting talents extends beyond the merely musical – Muir’s skill level as a lyricist is extraordinarily high and each of the album’s eleven tracks is touched in some significant way by her talents in that area. She’s a judicious writer as well as musician – there are no needless musical or verbal pyrotechnics on this album and every single part is functional rather than ornamental. The single biggest influence on the album is likely its most understated – the influence of Scottish traditional music on Muir’s particular interpretation of Americana.
The knowing, skeptical air imbuing much of that type of music comes through in the opener “Lucky One”. Some of the lines turning on surprisingly caustic sentiments while others are clearly alight with regret and pain. Muir completely embodies both turns with a sure sense of confidence and her voice is perfectly tailored to the backing track. She hits an even higher mark with “Better Man” thanks to the wrenching family drama it depicts and the emotion coursing through Muir’s voice. The particular details working within the lyric help make it an even stronger experience for listeners. “Stop Messin’ Me Around” is a romping nod to Muir’s love of traditional rockabilly, but this is too stylish and technically accomplished to be considered much more than a nod. It has a high energy level, however – probably more so than any other track on Second Life.
The folky in Muir comes to the fore on the song “I Want to Lay Down”. Wags might assume the title is a reference to Muir’s need for rest, but it’s actually one of a few love songs on Second Life that are notable for their gentleness and exceptional artisanship. The feel of the song does a great job of recalling the folk song tradition and its separate sections hang together quite tightly while still breathing quite well. The plonking urgency of “Born by the Water” could have easily went in much more predictable bluesy direction, but it’s own particular take on the folk music tradition depends largely on its exceptional lyric to carry the day. A final high point on Second Life comes with the song “Never Felt Like a Woman”. Her unadorned honesty, almost painful to hear, fills the song with deep pathos that earlier numbers lack. The album’s concluding song and title cut is a grandiose, but never self-indulgent, marriage of Muir’s confessional songwriting, open-hearted vocals, and a classical backing. It ends Second Life on an intensely hopeful note and with an eye to an ever wider future. Kathy Muir is a major talent who’s star only continues to ascend through the firmament of modern life.
9 out of 10 stars