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Reviews

Rebecca PronskyRebecca Pronsky
Album: Known Objects
Label: Acme Hall
Tracks: 10
Website: http://www.rebeccapronsky.com

A jazz trained Brooklynite singer-songwriter with a dusty nasal vibrato who got turned on to folk by Lucy Wainwright Roche when they were in high school together, Pronsky first came to attention here with the release of 2011's "Viewfinder", following up with the more alt-country "Only Daughter", both containing tracks that evoked thoughts of Stevie Nicks, Neil Young, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris.

Again produced by and featuring her partner Rich Bennett, her latest was originally intended as a duo album, but evolved into a much fuller project that also saw them setting up their own studio/label. The result is an even more assured album that shows her growing musical maturity and emotional depth, kicking off with "Bag Of Bones", a scratchy mandolin Appalachain-coloured number about, ironically, a creatively exhausted musician consumed by self-doubt ("give yourself to total strangers and then go home alone, just a song and a bag of bones"). A similar theme would seem to inform the mid-tempo warbling roots-rock "Nothing Yet", one of the album standouts, as she starts out singing "I traveled a long way to be a tiny creature in the deepest sea and every drop of rain is another heavy strain on me", but, riding an ascending chorus, is actually more to do with finding self- acceptance and our moment " and see the way ahead is when we're ready to be innocent, fragile and broken, able to admit we know nothing yet."

The musical mood drops for the reflective ("when can I begin to change the way I've been?

I'm ready to let go and to start over again.I tried to be tough, but I've missed you so much") slow waltzing "Did You Know", Bennett on piano and Tim Byrnes contributing flugelhorn, and yet a further notch with the guitar-shimmering introspective "Shadow" ("Oh my shadow will divide me. One side a thicker skin. This shell it doesn't hide me, it just holds me in").

On her bio, Pronsky lists her top albums, among them "A Walk Across The Rooftops", the debut by The Blue Nile, and the mid-point here is marked by her cover of that album's "Heatwave", keeping the metronomic rhythm but shorter by about two minutes and less jazzy, plinketty piano replaced by a repeated guitar pattern. Then it's back to her own material with the strummed mandolin riff of "Snowing Sideways", a song about facing adversity ("when it's snowing sideways we will come together, the way we've always known how in the darkest weather, when our hands are tied we are most alive. And that's when the change comes") even when your natural inclination is to be always waiting to catch the next train and the next dream.

Featuring cello and what sounds like ukulele, the dreamily crooned "Blues Skies" again talks about having to take chances on life as she sings "the trail veers west if you take it you'll not know what's next till you make it", although I confess the opening line about "all the policemen sat on the side, fountains of angry, mountains of pride" has be somewhat baffled.

Heading into the final stretch, featuring female backing chorus that includes Wainwright Roche, there's a touch of Nanci Griffith to the chiming melody of "Gondwanaland", arguably the album's finest moment, an inspirational, anthemic song about not giving in to doubt, insecurity and reasons to be tied down, swelling the heart in its final verse of "I fight the feeling, pull myself up I won't be fooled by the weight, I am tough.How can I trust what I know in my heart?

I'm a coward, I crave, I'm not brave enough to fall apart."

The penultimate track, the spare strummed "A.E.", is somewhat different in that it is based on the story of Amelia Earhart, but, ultimately, it too is about following your path whatever the end result may be. It closes with the equally stripped back arrangement of "No Matter", another song with the singer questioning the ability to overcome the rain and reach the clear skies, grateful for the 'roof' her partner provides, but ultimately acknowledging that if we are to grow we need to be allowed to make our mistakes, her final words "you see me at my limits, but you must let me bruise and break." Long may she go on making mistakes like this.

Mike Davies