The Jeopardy of Circumstance
There used to be an adage: When you don't want to do Nashville, you do Austin. That may not hold as true today, but there was a time when when just about everything filtering to the country-fied (meaning fans of roots music) came through those music meccas. And although the whole indie scene has pretty much made that moot, many many talented musicians and producers/engineers still find themselves there.
For Carrie Elkin, Austin is the latest stop in a wandering lifestyle, having stopped for short periods in Ohio, Georgia, Colorado, Massachusetts, Nebraska and New Mexico. While in New Mexico, she connected with Colin Brooks, founding member of The Band of Heathens, that connection taking them both to, ahem, Austin. The result is “The Jeopardy of Circumstance” (well, not the only result, for The Heathens ride at night). It is yet another in a long line of independently produced albums which make me not miss the old music industry one whit.
For one thing, the old music industry would surely have buried “Obadiah” in the middle or at the end of this album, the old-timers neck deep in the belief that you had to pound listeners to submission at the start, but Elkin and Brooks use it as opener and it works. The funereal organ, reverbed voice and haunting harmonies may be meditative, something musical dinosaurs seldom open albums with, but it is beautiful and for many of us, beautiful trumps upbeat most of the time.
Elkin brings a whole lotta Nanci Griffith to “Roots & Wings”, which is not a bad thing at all. She possibly did not even realize that the rhythm and feel was sister to “I'm Not Drivin' These Wheels (Bring Your Prose to the Wheel)” from Griffith's excellent “Once In a Very Blue Moon” album and it really doesn't matter. Elkins' mix of trad folk and modern country is so natural, it flies on its own. Anyway, a good song is a good song and if you have to sound like someone occasionally, better Griffith than many others.
There is a bit of The Band's “The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down” which shrouds “Year Before the War”, the story of a photographer going blind. The subject matter is enhanced by superb production and that bent guitar string sound. “Broke TV” is more of a little pop ditty than a song, but that doesn't explain why it pops into my head and makes me smile when I'm walking down the street, and “Black Lung” is a producer's dream, harmonium droning at the beginning, sparse banjo plucks and acoustic guitar filling in until the full-band chorus.
There is more, of course, but the idea is that Elkin bounces from style to style and never gets in the way of the music. While she does not have tremendous range vocally, she more than makes up for it emotionally, choosing songs which run the gamut from introspective to joyful, romantic to downright bouncy. And she does it totally without ego, which does not happen as much as you think these days.
I have to admit that she does not come across my desk without recommendation, though. The mere presence of Danny Schmidt gives credence and though he adds only harmony voice, it is enough. Word has it that Elkin will play a handful of dates with him this Fall, a great one-two bill. Undoubtedly, Elkin and Schmidt will share the stage at some time, if only for an encore or two, and that would be something I would not want to miss.
- Frank Gutch