The classic realm of country music was populated by rugged, true-to-life songwriters that seemed to write their experiences into their lyrics. The impression of emotion and a knack for storytelling made the golden age of country a wonderful bounty of great songs. Sadly the country music industry now stands in stagnate, pumping out an excess of knee-jerk redneck fare and southern accented pop music that appeals to a lowest common denominator of listeners. Kait Lawson‘s Until We Drown is proof positive that this needn’t be the case and that country music in its essential, powerful element is far from dead.
Lawson’s approach to songwriting is forthright and uncompromising in its glowing presentation. The album opens warmly with the upbeat “Take Your Charge”, an apologetic confrontation with a failed, youthful relationship. “Memphis” is a love letter to her home town that may seem rather generic upon first listen. However the substance of its story shines through, bathed in bright organ tones and upheld by Lawson’s naturally beautiful voice.
The album’s depth and maturity continue to amaze on “Mad Ones” which tells the sad story of two friends with divergent life paths. The element of addiction in this song recalls another fantastic song “Whiskey Lullaby” by Brad Paisley and Allison Krause. Lawson’s soft recollections are accented by a beautiful harmony on the violin, creating a dreamlike atmosphere. “Place in the Ground” continues the somber tone, however this track unexpectedly includes superb woodwinds, trumpets and a jazzy rhythm. The song itself details the regret of a husband who has lost his wife and his attempts to pick up the pieces of his shattered life. This may be the best song on the album, showing just how talented the musicians involved on this record really are.
“Spin Me Around” is another great tune, reminding me of Joan Osborne with an appropriate alt-rock balladeer style. Lawson pushes her voice to powerful heights on this track, supported again by excellent organ work and an epic lead guitar line. “I Suppose” provides the album with its shortest, most elegant track. Here Lawson reminisces atop her lonely fingerpicking while a trumpet and violin dance in the twilight. The song, much like its tale of a prematurely ended relationship, is over far too soon and leaves you wanting more of its lush arrangements.
“Omaha” brings the album back around to an upbeat note as the band kicks it out onto the road for good times and long drives. I love the subtle piano playing around beneath the dueling guitars on this one, and the lead is just perfect in its tasty, meandering way. The title track closes the album out in rather epic fashion, slowly building upon Lawson’s lovely voice. This song is another standout that runs the full gamut of nostalgia, emotional resonance, and wisdom beyond years. With such an exceptional cast of musicians and nary a misstep in the songwriting department, Until We Drown is without a doubt one of the best country albums I’ve heard in years (perhaps since Alan Jackson‘s Freight Train). In a musical environment populated by far too many over-produced and underwhelming singers, Lawson’s genuine article style and substance are a breath of glorious fresh air.
MP3: Kait Lawson “Place In The Ground”