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Carrie Elkin Carrie Elkin
Album: The Penny Collector
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 11

Back to self-releasing after a brief stint on Red House (one solo and one with husband Danny Schmidt), produced by Neilson Hubbard and featuring contributions from him Kris Dogenan, Will Kimbrough, Schmidt and Robby Hecht, Elkin's fifth solo plunges straight into its personal depths with 'New Mexico' a song which, slightly melodically reminiscent of 'Diamonds and Rust', deals with the death of her father. Indeed, the album title itself pays tribute to him, a lifelong collector, at the time of his death he had amassed some 600,000 pennies, something that, here, serves as metaphor for finding value in the small things of life. The gentle 'And The Birds Came' likewise addresses his passing ("the birds came. They took my dad away. It was so quiet…The birds they wanted him. They knew he'd help them fly") and, understandably, many of the songs have a reflective nature. Whether autobiographical or not, the slow waltzing 'Niagara' line ("like the years on her skin, it all happened so fast"), the more uptempo 'Live Wire' ("She's daddy's little girl, she's a real live wire") and the piano accompanied ballad 'Tilt-A-Whirl' all deal in memories of youth and childhood, something that takes on extra poignancy when you know that the same year in which her father died also saw the birth of her first child.

Given the emotional background, the lyrics invite interpretation, such as "Albatross gonna make me sing with my mother's voice and my father's wings. I'll carry the burden of a thousand things. Blame it on god and the unforeseen" on 'Albatross' with its minimal electric guitar notes, background soulful organ and a musical mood that conjures the open night skies.

On the other hand, fiddle-backed 'Crying Out' is a more universal song about anguish f longing ("I know you know what to do, but I know it's hard for you"), while others are more clearly story based, such as the jogging 'My Brother Said' -

"What's a girl to do with all those scars, what's a girl to do with a hatin' heart. What's a girl to do cause so much pain, what's a girl to do when she shares our name… What's a girl to do, he controls her so what's a girl to do when she can't grow old"

- with its sudden burst of fierce electric guitar and a melody line that recalls Ana Egge's 'He's A Killer Now'. Or, then again, the waltzing Native American-themed 'Always On The Run' where she sings about how "The reservation down there is rough and it's dirty. The trees have been cleared and the cattle are dead. And the land is tired and the young kids are drinking and the drug lords have moved in."

The album closes, firstly with a spare reworking of Paul Simon's 'American Tune' that finely captures it sense of both weariness and hope and then the breathily sung, spiritual 'Lamp Of the Body', its words inspired by the Book of Matthew, a double-tracked Elkin singing (joined by, I assume, Schmidt) the' this little light of mine' refrain over the verses as violin, cello, fluttering percussion and mandolin weave a celestial backdrop tapestry.

It's been a long six years since Elkin last went into a recording studio as a solo performer, it's to be hoped that that gap won't be so long before she does so again.

Mike Davies