For the decreasing number of music veterans who remember the days of flyers and fanzines, Alana Amram‘s credentials will please. Not only does she look the part of an esoteric singer-songwriter––she acts it, too. She injects a hint of country into her sensible folk tunes and eliminates any notion of gimmick or cliche that a listener might interject. She and her band compose the fullness of Alana Amram & the Rough Gems, and their new full-length Spring River brings to mind pastoral ideals, which Amram twists with rusty realism.
Fitting for both a trailer park and a countryside road trip, Spring River is full of the usual mellow acoustic guitar patterns and velvety vocals you’d expect. Vocally, Amram has hints of Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell but with more of an edge that suits the whiny country instrumentals well. “Should I Go Now” finds Amram monologuing in classic southern fashion about relational issues, though it carefully avoids previously worn lyrical ground. The grit of the song is mild enough to let the folkiness emerge, and this creates a strong point for Amram. “Window Rock” is a chill gem that travels from reflection to an ending the Outlaws would be proud of. Laid-back like an afternoon spent on the farm’s porch, the song pits gentle sounds with metaphysically thick lyrics; “God only knows why I’m still living,” Amram croons over a bluesy soundscape.
With the half-and-half recipe that Amram uses, it seems that Spring River would be neutral on the pH scale, but it still is electric enough for a charge to come through. “Train” rolls along for sure, but the pace is slower than the passengers might desire. Amram has a lot to say and seems to hold back at points to let the music come through. Though this is admirable, she needn’t be afraid to restrain herself. That said, the organic quality of the album is apparent in songs like “Another World,” which features Amram counting off a slowly plucked guitar rhythm that forms a mental car ride going past all of the scenes she describes. There is a haunting vibe to the song that, while it doesn’t linger, raises the bar for the rest of the album. It doesn’t live up to the expectation, but it doesn’t fall short, either. Spring River is less of a journey and more of a weekend jaunt, but it’s a relaxing mini-vacation.