Valley of the Bones
About twice a year, I head down to the bunker and dig out Jane Kramer’s previous album, Carnival of Hopes. I am never disappointed; this 2016 release only grows in my estimation with repeated listening.
I was excited then to receive Valley of the Bones for review, and to find that this Asheville singer has continued to do and improved what she does so well: deliver terrific roots music with a strong country bent. Miles from the mainstream, if this was the music modern country radio would get behind, the world might just be a better place for all of us.
With her band much the same from last time out—the rhythm section of Eliot Wadopian (upright bass) and River Guergueruan (drums and percussion) remain intact, with Allison Hall singing harmony, and Nicky Sanders dropping in some fiddle bits—Kramer doesn’t miss a beat: it is very much like the intervening years never happened. Lead multi-instrumentalist Chris Rosser (guitars, keys, mandolin, harmonium)—he was also featured in a more limited role on the previous album—creates a lovely musical base on which everything else is built, with Billy Cardine offering up tasteful Dobro fills (“Two Broke Kids”).
But it is Kramer’s voice we come back to—well, that and her songs. There is a lilt, a break in her approach that is completely irresistible. Last time out I likened it to Dar Williams, and that holds true—a rising on the end notes, a tendency to accentuate some syllables with a flavour not normally encountered. She is a beautiful singer, pure country, if by country one means ‘real,’ ‘genuine,’ and ‘heartfelt.’
These songs—the bond of sisters (“Saint Carrie of the Storms”), the inter-dependence of the found (“Two Lost Kids” and “Wedding Vows”), the challenge of circumstance (“Macon County”)—are absolute stone killing. If Kacey Musgraves or Ashley McBryde can find success in this wacky roots world and beyond, so should Jane Kramer. Damn, her writing and performance are honest and true.
“Waffle House Song” is about discovering inspiration through independence, while “I’ll See Your Crazy and Raise You Mine”—”twenty-five miserable years…I wore your ex-wife’s wedding dress…”—features a cast of characters and perspectives that would make Robert Earl Keen and John Prine proud. Finding God in “fireflies and digging in the dirt” is about as close to church I can imagine getting (“Hymn”) as Kramer captures the splendour of that which surrounds all of us.
Love songs, songs of loss and challenge, songs of the musicians’ lot, a tear, a chuckle…you’ll find all this and more in Jane Kramer’s Valley of the Bones.
[Review based on supplied CD.]