Austin native Amy Farris has spent most of her career playing second fiddle (and viola and mandolin) to a host of Texan singer/songwriters. Among them: Kelly Willis, Bruce Robison and Alejandro Escovedo. She steps out on her own here with an impressive collection of tunes produced by Dave Alvin. Although Farris’s voice is not as distinctive as Willis’s, her songwriting abilities and instrumental prowess shine through on Anyway.
Farris wrote or co-wrote six of the eleven cuts, including the title track, which features multi-tracked vocals out of some ’60s girl group number and a stick-in-your-head chorus. “Pretty Dresses” has an old school country sound with honky-tonk piano and pedal steel. There’s also the blues-y “My Heart’s Too Easy to Break,” with its terrific Alvin guitar solo. The bouncy Sartre-referencing “No Exit” has personality to spare. And the dramatic, castanet-clacking “Let Go” allows Farris to show a deeper vocal range while accompanying herself on both violin and viola.
Unfortunately, she can also sound a bit chirpy on tunes like “Heading East” despite lyrics like, “Well we drank a lot of whiskey in our sterile hotel room/A conscience-stricken bride and a drunken, ghostly groom.”
Farris also covers Robison’s “Drivin’ All Night Long,” harmonizing with herself in a voice that’s a little bit Nanci Griffith, a little bit Exene Cervenka. Speaking of Exene, Farris takes on X’s “Poor Girl” from More Fun in the New World.
A couple of dull torch songs here don’t leave much of an impression, and show that Farris needs to work on setting the mood and conveying emotion in her songs. But Anyway is a promising step to the front of the stage for a talented performer who’s been a back-bencher for far too long.