Louise Goffin’s Songs From the Mine is pure pop for now people, as Nick Lowe used to say—done in classic ‘70s style. There are echoes of Badfinger (“We Belong Together”), George Harrison (“Follow My Heart”), and other acts—but not that of her famous mother, Carole King. One doesn’t need to be Sigmund Freud to figure this out. Sometimes a musician’s greatest influences are the ones we do not want to sound like. Without the excesses of Led Zeppelin and company, we probably would never have had ‘70s power pop. But it is unusual to consider that without the singer songwriters of the era, we would not have catchy, non-confessional lyrics, and melodies with hook.
Of course the conundrum is that catchy, non-confessional lyrics and melodies with hooks came before the singer songwriters—written by artists like King. But Goffin’s music could not be mistaken for her mom’s. Goffin lives in the modern era, as she sings on “Get With the World”. This ain’t Brill Building music. The light comes through the holes where the Twin Towers used to be, at least metaphorically speaking (Goffin does not refer to them directly). In “Watching the Sky Turn Blue”, a Prince-like groove builds as the sun shines down, but there is something oppressive about the whole thing. What color was the sky in the first place that we had to wait for it to clear? Goffin knows better than to say.
Most of the album is more folk than rock, with acoustic guitars, ukuleles, and pianos taking the instrumental leads. There’s even a bit of country here, on songs like “Some of Them Will Fool You”, although there’s no trace of a drawl, steel guitar, fiddle, or banjo in the mix. Again, remember the seventies were also the time when country rock made a huge resurgence. This may be more Eagles than Lynyrd Skynyrd, but without the cheesiness. And when does get hokey, as on the gleeful “Main Street Parade”, the tuba and accordion add to the exuberance of her feelings. “I don’t need a big production”, she sings, “All I want is your sweet loving.” She understands the importance of keeping everything simple, from the music to the sentiments expressed. Life is complicated. Pointing the way is enough.
Goffin’s vocals float over it all without ever getting lost. She clearly articulates the words and will let a riff go by before joining in to let the tunes build up into solid structures. The most sonically adventurous cut, “Deep Dark Night of the Soul”, features slightly surrealist lyrics (“I was eating ice cream / three scoops on a spoon”), an out-of-kilter trombone, and a spoken word section in French. Goffin had a hand in writing every one of the eleven tracks. While it is impossible to know which specific contributions are hers, her presence creates a thematic unity to the album. This might be best identified as an attitude.
Her persona is confident yet insecure. She openly tells you what she observes, feels, and thinks about what’s important in life, and then hesitates. Goffin’s narrators wonder if they are right in their opinions but feel compelled to act as if they are. The phrase in business is, “Fake it until you make it.” Goffin’s music reveals that while she may have the same doubts, she’s secure enough to turn into music whereby she can analyze them. “When I am lost / I listen for my own song”, she sings. That’s good advice that we all can apply to our own lives.
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