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Susan Cattaneo Susan Cattaneo
Album: The Hammer & The Heart
Label: Jersey Girl
Tracks: 18

Susan Cattaneo is a Boston-based singer songwriter and this is her fifth release. The Hammer & The Heart is a double album featuring 40 other musicians and is split between one side which is electric and side two which is acoustic.

The opening track Work Hard Love Harder opens both sides. Firstly as an out and out rocker, and on the second side, as a sweet acoustic three-part harmony.

It's interesting way to see how artists reflect on their songs and the choices they make to arrange them.

On side one, the song moves along very nicely, with insistent drums and shimmering guitars, Susan's vocals are clear and the sound is very commercial.

If an album is a musical journey then this is one interesting trip. The writing is crisp and the songs are well produced. There's some nice lap steel on The River Always Win, and there's the rockabilly feel of In The Grooves, with sparkling piano and guitars.

There's the slow smoochy When Loves Goes Right with Bill Kerchen sharing vocals.

Other tracks such as Lonely My Lover are less successful with guitars overpowering the vocals.

But there are plenty of good music to find here. Dry is another classy slow burner. Ten Kinds of Trouble features some tasty mandolin and dobro in a funky arrangement.

Side one closes with Robert Cray's Back Door Slam, a confident bluesy outing with Davy Knowles on guitar. It is a fitting ending to the electric side.

Throughout the vocals were spot on.

Side Two opens up with Work Hard Love Harder in its acoustic form, with Susan's' vocals sparkling at the top of the mix. The song works in this format because it is so strong, it has a catchy chorus. Here it has lots of background harmonies and guitar and mandolin. Just great.

There's plenty more to enjoy, Ordinary Magic, is a simple love song that is beautifully produced. Carried is another slow mover, with Susan's vocals taking centrestage, subtle organ and guitar move the song along very sweetly. Bitter Moon is a song of love lost and handled beautifully - one of the album's highlights - with sweet dobro.

The vocals are on top form on Smoke, a more upbeat song. Field of Stone has a more pronounced country feel. Fade to Blue is another classy song that is well produced with lovely backing vocals and simple guitar.

The final two tracks show how versatile this singer is. Mose Allison's Everybody's Cryin' Mercy is a consummate exercise in simplicity - vocals, bass and drums. Wonderful. The final track is David Bowie's Space Oddity - simply done with guitar and suitably spacey vocals. A classic song handled sensitively.

Yes, this is quite a musical journey.

John Knighton