Looking for someone who straddles the folk, country, and Americana worlds as comfortably as Mary Gauthier, Kate Campbell, and Mary Chapin Carpenter? Look no further.
Depending on the song, Cronin sounds a little like each of the named singers, and her approach to songwriting is similar—personal narratives that are universally appealing. Gauthier (“Humankind,”) Campbell (“Mean Bone,”) and Carpenter (“Careless With the Heart,”) naturally come to mind listening to the album’s first three songs, and it is momentarily a little jarring. Once settled into the album, one begins to hear Cronin’s distinctive qualities—the way she draws out a syllable, an unhurried approach to rhythm and tempo, and a keen perspective that makes every image and lyric impacting.
Cronin is most obviously an experienced troubadour. Through the starkness of the recording environment, her natural warmth and personality is conveyed as acutely as if being heard in an intimate coffee shop or club. “Devil I Know” is a dark little number, and isn’t the only song that makes the listener lean back in consideration of the manner in which we treat others.
When considering numbers to highlight, I couldn’t ignore a single one. “Riding the Gray Line” captures acute imaginings deliberated during an otherwise uneventful bus ride, and it isn’t difficult to relate to the human fragility of “God Doesn’t” and “Mongrels and Mutts.” Desired freedom is communicated through every note of “El Camino Fly” (I can hear the HighWomen, Dixie Chicks, or Pistol Annies taking a run at it)—“We can live like rebels baby, Riding out here on the edge of crazy.” If you’re searching for something special, consider “The Last Cowboy” or “In A Kiss” (“There’s one I still wish I would’ve tried, One I’ll remember till the day I die.”)
Old Ghosts & Lost Causes concludes with the album’s strongest song, “Ghost”—and that is saying a lot. While the rest of the album features an incredible Nashville band including Bobby Terry (guitars and mandolin), Chad Cromwell (drums), Kenny Vaughan (guitars), and Byron House (bass), “Ghost” is Cronin alone with her guitar and words. And what a performance it is, a distillation of artist as visionary. Written with Davis Corley (who also co-wrote “Riding the Gray Line”), “Ghost” is a haunting country song that—like the spectre lingering in its former home—doesn’t let go until the very end. It is a lonely song, one where the listener may hope the departed spouse finds peace, rest, or even salvation. Spoiler: he doesn’t.
I love being introduced to a singer-songwriter not previously encountered. Helene Cronin’s Old Ghosts & Lost Causes is an incredible artistic statement. I can’t wait to hear more of her music.