When the rockin’ slide guitars tear into the first song here, “Six Miles to McKenney,” in which the narrator tells of getting a huge crush on a road-warrior woman who pulls into the same gas station, guys and girls who like girls and everyone who likes the idea of tough female rock singers might think they’ve died and gone to heaven. It’s funny and wistful and sexy and kinda geeky — she never gets with the woman, just dreams about riding with her — and it’ll be on a lot of my mixtapes this year.
But the rest of the record is in very different modes. Mostly, Claire Holley (who is a married woman, so cool it y’all) is an incisively observational folk-rocker with a sweet nature and a basically optimistic world-view. On the medium-tempo tune “Waving Goodbye” she sings about how she has to get away from where she is, but first she has to experience everything: “You ask me why I take it in” (slight pause) “‘Cause I’m gonna die.” The music is much more mellow and sneaky than in “Six Miles,” but this line kicks like a damned Ozark mule.
‘Cause yeah, Claire Holley takes it all in all right. Every detail of every song is keenly seen, from the red paint on the streetlights in “Playground” to her own reflection right before she’s swallowed by “a very large whale” in the surreal closing piece, “The Deep.” She’s devastating in character; I love it when she morphs into poor ol’ Hank, who is badgered into going on a whale watch but just gets sick and can’t see no whales either. (No, I don’t know what the whole whale motif is about. It’s kinda cool, though.)
A couple of these songs draw blood. “Sugar” is about remembering a “frail bird” of a girl with a stutter, but it’s about much more: a homecoming parade, teachers and coaches, attempts at reconciliation, small-town life, regret, hope, love — a whole lot of stuff, maybe too much for one song. Made me cry, though (I’m so emo). And when the narrator of “Love Never Came” mentions that her childhood preacher lied to her, does that mean what I think it means? Not sure, but the ambiguity is killin’ me.
So yeah, this is a hell of a record. But only a couple of songs actually rock, while the rest are borne along on a tide of jangly acoustic guitars and lovely singing that end up being kind of samey and too-easily recognizable. Claire, kick your band in the ass, and take yourself seriously — you have major-league talent, and you need to work up enough steam to put yourself out there so that your light can shine all over the world.
Yep Roc Records: http://www.yeproc.com/