Born and raised in California, West has been making music since she left home at 15 in a converted school bus with a bunch of activists, initially singing hard rock in LA before gravitating to America with her 2004 debut. Since then, she's released a further three albums, the last a collaboration with Kelly Joe Phelps, Her latest arrives some five years after that, following a year's sabbatical in Austria, her first completely self-produced recordings and featuring songs, many dating back to 2011, that, she says, both move her music forward (bringing in piano, organ, and deep drums) and reflect what she's done in the past, less lyrically obscure and more direct. Phelps is here on guitar and vocals, while other contributors include mandolin player Mike Marshall and erstwhile Beach Boys drummer Ricky Fataar.
Her voice, soft, wooded smoked and dusty, and intonation often call to mind that of Margo Timmins, especially so on the liltingly lovely "Cry of the Echo Drifter" and the folk tinged "Monday's Song" which casts the mind back to those early defining Cowboy Junkies albums. But she's nobody's clone and, whether on the ballads or the albums clutch of more uptempo numbers she has an aching purity of her own.
The album opens on a high with "Trouble No More", co-penned with Phelps and gently carried by mandolin and brushed drums with its tumbling chords and the memorable refrain "the sky is indifferent to the storm."
Wurlitzer colouring Phelps' fingerpicked guitar, the "Sweet Rains of Amber" continues down a folksy path, evocative of the same mood that informed "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme", while getting sprightlier for "Give Our Ships Away" with its dual mandolins, blues guitar and Hammond swirls, the title track itself even friskier with its racing drums and bluegrassy mandolin, West slipping into a spoken drawled passage about strangers and madness towards the end.
Things are calmer with the close harmonies of the guitar-rippling folk-country "Audrey Turns The Moon" with its haunting line about a "bag of bones in a boxcar of wine", giving way to the slightly jazzier feel to the guitar work and bluesy organ of "Gyspy Moon", another lunar titled number that showcases the duo's vocal symmetry, West's high notes dominant. The jazzy tone spills over into the soft, muted torch tones of "Find Me Here" with its spare piano and bass backing, the album closing in waltzing old school country territory with the campfire feel of the near six-minute "Night Falls Away Singing", co-writer Phelps harmonising as she longingly sings about putting the darkness behind her, calling on her lover to "Hold me so tight that the world can't get in, then dance with me darling again." To misquote Madonna, Starlight starbright, makes everything all right.
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