Album Review: Claire Lynch — Dear Sister
Claire Lynch’s Dear Sister, produced by Garry West, is a mint in the mouth of any listener. Her ninth solo album (and first with roots label, Compass Records) is refreshingly thoughtful in content, just bold enough stylistically, and plain fun to listen to.
Lynch’s voice takes the lead in this bluegrass-and-then some record that also showcases the work of core Claire Lynch Band members Matt Wingate (guitar, mandolin), Bryan McDowell (fiddle, mandolin) and Mark Schatz (upright bass). Additional standout guest contributors include Tim O’ Brien (Bouzouki, background vocals), Mark Jordan (B3) and others.
There’s no wimpy writing in this ten-song release. Rather, discerning listeners will feel deeply in response to honest lyrics masterfully woven. Stellar writing shines throughout, from “How Many Moons,” which centers on the haunting question, “How do you do when you do without me at all?” to “Doin’ Time,” with its self-deprecatory lines, “All I know to do now is run away / When I forgive myself that will be the day.” That’s not to say the songs feel dreary. On the contrary, the brash, chorus-heavy “I’ll Be Alright Tomorrow,” leaves no time for a frown. Even the sad “Once the Teardrops Start to Fall,” co-written by Lynch and Craig Fuller, boasts a driving, country-blues beat connected quite by McDowell’s fiddle and guest artist, Rob Ickes, on resonator guitar.
An acclaimed songwriter herself with cuts recorded by Patty Loveless, the Whites and others, Lynch co-wrote four songs on the project. A highlight is the poignant title track “Dear Sister.” Co-written with Louisa Branscomb, its opening lyric, “This could be my last letter / I may never see the cotton fields of home” draws listeners into this story inspired by true events from Branscomb’s own ancestry. Its lines reflect real Civil War-time letters sent from a soldier to his sister; they express the fears and sorrows of battle as well as the soldier’s reassuring faith in the face of doom, as in, “If I fall here at Stone’s River, I know that God will bear away my soul to be with Him.” (Frank Anderson Chappel has written a book about the letters, Dear Sister: Civil War Letters to a Sister in Alabama.)
“Patch of Blue,” a deeply personal written solely by Lynch, elicits both tears and smiles. With skilled vocal subtlety, the two-time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year delivers heartfelt lyrics that, in vivid color, touch on black and white, wrong and right, and the only hue that matters to her, that “patch of blue,” that one embrace that has – or would – finally break through her “world of gray.”
Lynch’s steady talent as a singer, songwriter, and musician has surely garnered her fans from multiple camps– bluegrass, folk, Americana, and even country. It’s safe to say that with this record, that trend will continue.
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