Amy Farris is from Austin, Texas, but what separates her from the rest of those singer-songwriters from the city is that she didn’t relocate to earn the credibility of her peers. It’s her stomping ground. Farris thus has a leg up on those who move to the city to learn and ply their musical crafts as she knows what people want around those parts. Another distinction is that she doesn’t go the coffeehouse route to her roots music. It’s difficult to do that with a fiddle to begin with, but Farris goes down a darker, dustier path with this latest album.
Produced by Dave Alvin, the record begins with “Drivin’ All Night Long”, with the feathery vocals of Farris leading the way. The track is like a worn shoe—easy to get into and hard to ignore. Her harmony vocals during the chorus don’t quite shine but during the bridge her twang gets her over the proverbial bar. Drummer Don Heffington also is strong on the opener, recalling early Steve Earle and The Dukes. That is, if Earle had a fiddle. Come to think of it, Stacey Earle might be a good comparison, although Farris has less of the childlike wonder in her pitch. What comes off much finer is the brilliant “Heading East”, a waltz-ish melody that the Cowboy Junkies could do if they were ever happy in their songs. “Hanging in my kitchen is a dusty plastic cross / And with Jesus in the middle glowing green in the dark,” she sings as the fiddle gives it a mountain-cum-Celtic sway. The sharp ending leaves something to be desired though.
Farris is all over the place, especially on the Django-like ragtime of “Undecided”, resembling Squirrel Nut Zippers and their earlier albums. She brings it around to more of a country honky-tonk flavor as it glides along with the upright bass and acoustic guitar touches. The pop tint to the title track initially is questionable. By the second verse, one is on board for the dreamy, ‘60s girl group meets Mama Cass-esque arrangement. Another asset is how old-school it is, not using any contemporary radio-friendly roots base. Alvin’s solo on baritone guitar gives it more substance also. “Pretty Dresses” has her going way back to the likes of Patsy Cline or early Loretta Lynn. Or, think of Neko Case and Carloyn Marks or Kelly Hogan in today’s musical circles.
As luck would have it, Farris runs out of gas on the sultry, smoky “My Heart’s Too Easy to Break.” Feeling like it’s been taken out of the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction, Farris gives a lounge lizard delivery as she adds an organ to her fiddle, making for a messy three minutes and change. However, the cover of John Doe’s and Exene Cervenka’s “Poor Girl” is delectable—a great train-rolling ditty that glides into the catchy, ear-candy chorus. Perhaps she was listening to too much of the Traveling Wilburys when recording this song. It’s the type of number that appears to be nearing its sixth minute despite wrapping up in just over four. “Hard to Say” is hard to listen to, a blend of the Squirrel Nut Zippers charm but with a definitive jazz back-beat and arrangement. “Why do I dream of you?” she sings before the fiddle tries to bring the somber jazz beat to life. Doesn’t work!
Next we get a barren “Big Louise”, a perfect complement to PJ Harvey’s Dance Hall at Louse Point. On this dreary number that revisits signature arrangements of the ‘40s, Farris sounds at home. A military beat on “Let Go” has a certain Spaghetti Western hue while she nails the song that could have been penned by either Dwight Yoakam or Chris Isaak. Anyway you put it, this album is her best thus far! Alejandro Escovedo has been done proud with this one.
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