*This is an advanced review. The album will be out March 3, 2015.
Caroline Spence has a crystal clear, timeless vocal quality. She has the ability to pierce through the soundscape with a sincerity and genuineness that’s rarely found in music today. More girl-next-door than big-city diva, Spence brings her self titled album to the ears of country fans with impressive intimacy and flavor.
“I know why the trains cry… they can’t just turn around.” This metaphorical gem highlights not only Spence’s bright vocals but a powerful lyric sensibility. She might even open the album with the best track.
“Don’t Call” is a bit more of the stereotypical Nashville and does not highlight Spence’s brilliant vocals as well as the previous track. Following that track “Hello Tomorrow” seems to be the cry of a sad, beautiful heart. “I can’t stop thinking about when you and I were young… what’s done is done. Hello tomorrow, goodbye yesterday.” Seriously anyone older than about 16 can connect with this sentiment of looking back on a former relationship a bit longingly, wondering what could have been. It’s deep and sweet and just delightful.
“One Man” is a great, serious track. It’s about love and desire and faithfulness. “That’s all I need – just your hand to hold. That’s all I want – just our life to grow old.” She’s got the kind of lyrical authenticity that’s needed in country music today. It’s quaint and put together, but doesn’t feel like a room full of whiskey-wise songwriters assembled a formula. It feels like lived experience, sung sweetly.
Speaking of whiskey, the following track “Whiskey Watered Down” essentially highlights what I just wrote. “Most songs just feel like whiskey watered down.” Damn straight, young lady. The track itself is a bit fuller and less stripped down than other songs on the album, but the country bar feel is so powerful I can almost smell the smoke and hear the pool tables.
“Hard Headed, Hard Hearted” seems like the title of a Willie Nelson track. Instead, it starts with a gently-pressed piano part and a beautiful duet. It’s really a song about poverty of spirit. The emotional evocation of the music is very nostalgic and the lyrics are actually about dysfunction. “Even when we mean well… can’t get to where we’re going to.” Ultimately a tragedy, it’s another well written track.
“I pour out my heart like a bottle of wine hoping I’d feel something more – it’s just a waste of time…” A real broken hearted lament, “Last Call” is a beautifully sorrowful track. It’s as if Spence shows us that the kind of late night “just been dumped” feeling of most blues songs is not exclusive to men. Using a creative double meaning about the “last call” for drinking and the “last call” as a warning to a ne’er do well man, it’s clever and well done.
The hardest driving song on the album is also the funniest title, “Kissing ain’t the same as talking.” The first line states that “my body is the only thing he got to know.” It’s about a guy treating her poorly and her very visceral reaction to it. The track is pretty standard “Nashville commercial country” sound, but the lyrics are an important reminder about the importance of consent.
Kicking it a little more old school, including a honky tonk piano and a banjo, “Seeing Other People” is a fantastic tune. I’d honestly love to hear a full album of this kind of music from Spence. Her Sara Watkins vocal quality really stands out on this one. She’s advocating for seeing other people, “I need another lovin’ man.” It’s a little bit New Orleans (especially with the beat and the muted trumpet). Frenchman Street – here’s your girl.
The final track “Bless Your Heart” is, of course, the quintessential southern girl’s compliment/insult/comment/prayer. In this case, Spence seems to be expressing it to an ex, half wishing him luck and half telling him not to let the door hit him in the hind end. The song’s musical simplicity, emphasizing a piano and guitar, leaves enough room to let Spence’s vocals soar. It’s a beautiful ending to a delightful album.
All told, I recommend this to fans of today’s commercial country music that just want a little something more authentic. There’s no crazy arena or festival songs here; it’s just genuine songs from the heart of someone who seems to be figuring out life. A few of the tracks are real sweet, timeless country songs. A few others are deeper than they seem at first blush, with layers of images and melodies that harken back to a bygone era of music. All told, I’m a fan of Caroline Spence and excited for our readers to enjoy this album.