Album Review: Kim Richey — Thorn in My Heart
Working in the shadows of Nashville star-making machine are a wealth of unheralded talents who occasionally take brief, fleeting turns in the spotlight. Kim Richey has had a quietly profound impact in country music over the last couple of decades with her vital contributions as a singer-songwriter. Her compositions have been cut by Brooks & Dunn, Patty Loveless, and Trisha Yearwood, but Richey’s own recordings are satisfying in their own right. Music Row is now on notice with the release of her seventh studio album, Thorn in My Heart, which includes 12 tracks all co-written by Richey and showcasing her inimitable vision. Sharp audiences will respond to the intense craving in her songs and the soulful fire in her voice.
Produced by Neilson Hubbard, Thorn is a gently-adorned album that sets Richey’s delicate, vulnerable alto to a series of frank admissions and wistful reflections. Most songs on Thorn center around the idea of escape, even if it’s only temporary. The title track is an understated gem: My Morning Jacket’s Carl Broemel (pedal-steel) and Wilco’s Pat Sasone (harmony, acoustic guitar) provide support as Richey mulls over a one-sided relationship. When she can’t commit fully to forgiving a romantic partner’s transgression on “Angels’ Share,” a slowly-percolating guitar ballad, she seeks temptation in the bottle to face a nerve-racking night ahead.
Aside from these ripped-from-real-life stories, it’s the tiny musical accents that make this more than just a solid collection of roots-country. The whinnying saxophone of “London Town” wraps around a song of loss and rootlessness. On “I Will Wait,” a foreboding bass line echoes the flickering exchange between star-crossed lovers who pledge their devotion only to pull back again. Then, before the program slips into more midtempo contemplation, “Come On” gets an energetic charge from its stabs of electric guitar.
After dodging these slings and arrows of love, Richey summons up the strength to press forward with “Breakaway Speed,” a beautifully haunting performance that features Yearwood and Jason Isbell on harmony vocals. For Richey, who’s moved from Nashville to London and back again in the last few years, a little freedom and a lot of open road have done her wonders.
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- Jack Williams: Steve Earle on The Wire.