Evergreen, the latest from the St. Louis-based Americana singer Beth Bombara, is inescapably warm. From its fuzzed-out guitars and enveloping bass lines to Bombara’s sincere vocal delivery, it conveys a lush sonic vibe from opening to closing track. She recorded it with her long-time touring band. The record balances the precision of a solid rhythm section with solid songwriting honed after years of performing live, experimentation, and living life through its ups and downs. The hum of tube amps and glowing production gives off a vintage vibe, but Bombara’s writing is skilled, nuanced, and timeless.
Opening track “I Only Cry When I’m Alone” nails the sentiment of heartbreak and loneliness without reverting to gushing, overwrought cliches. Bombara is believable when she sings, “I’m owning all my insecurities / Call ’em out by name and watch the demons bleed” like a world-weary chanteuse who refuses to let the world know how much she aches. Paired with “Upside Down”, a meditation on the frustrations and glories of a touring back, Evergreen reveals itself as an artifact of mature songwriting.
When she sings of suffering (“Everything is spent / Always more give than take”) and defiance (“Rules as hard as stone / Anymore I’ll make my own”) on “Anymore”, Bombara keeps an even-keel tone. She delivers most of the tracks on Evergreen with wisdom and a sense of purposeful reservation. Bombara doesn’t need to sell the songs–the melodies and turns of phrases speak for themselves, more so than a thousand over-emotive singers could.
Bombara and company nail the Americana sound even better here than they did on their previous release, Map & No Direction. For better or worse, each track on Evergreen radiates retro vibes from the hum of tube amplifiers and burning embers from cigarettes. It’s welcome in as much as it’s sincere and done with a love for the sound, but its lasting effect across the record’s ten songs grows a touch old. “Tenderhearted” is a sweet song that romances listeners, a feat accomplished without having a traditional chorus. Likewise, “Growing Wings” is a hopeful track, a potential single in its own right, yet both tracks are cut from the same cloth, one found in abundance throughout the record.
Again, this is where Bombara’s seasoned songwriting lifts the record. The title track shows an energetic side of the singer-songwriter that bursts out of the stereo after the other low-key tracks. Evergreen may be a record full of vintage fuzz and sunshine, but the closing track “All Good Things” might be the most heartfelt. The way Bombara sings alongside a piano and the clutter of peripheral sounds–the touch of fingers on the keys, the clunk of the sustain pedal–sounds so raw and beautiful, intimate and so assured at the same time. Admittedly, the programmed strings that sneak their way into the bridge are unnecessary; against the delicate humanity of voice and piano, they sound too clunky and obtrusive. Still, Bombara’s delivery and turns of phrase imbue the track with a sense of life and honesty, sentiments no amount of digital manipulation could ruin.
The easygoing nature of Evergreen can deceive listeners into thinking how easy this record would have been to make. This album came together so well simply because Bombara’s songwriting chops are so mature, her band is so seasoned, and she had something honest to say.