Megan Bee Cottonwood MeganBeeMusic.com
New to me, Cottonwood is Megan Bee’s fourth album. As a result of cross-border, postal challenges, the album came to me late but has—over the last month—made its way into consideration for my Favourite Roots Albums of 2022.
Bee’s voice reminds me of Frazey Ford, although there are times her approach also brings to mind additional roots goddesses including Iris Dement and early Dar Williams. Like a Nautilus shell, Bee’s voice, music, influences, and lyrics fold together precisely, no room left for error, only seemingly simple, but truly grand, perfection.
From Athens, Ohio, Bee includes simile and metaphor to make her thoughts and songs appealingly approachable. The comfortable isolation described within “When the Beach is Asleep,” “Fall Down,” and “Cottonwood Leaves” (“I’m standing here shaking in my knees…”) immediately grab this listener’s imagination. Kelly Madewell’s clawhammer-style banjo playing (that’s what it sounds like to me, but I could be wrong) adds depth to select songs, including “Cottonwood Leaves.”
There is a yearning within “Used to Be” (“I’ve been waiting, waiting to see; If I’ll ever return to what I used to be,”) but no desperation, a strength of character further defined within “Snowplow” (“I ain’t gonna be pushed around.”) She further captures interesting folk within “Rolls Away,” a character sketch of a Thursday night bowler who doesn’t want anyone to get too close, and “Fever,” where a woman finding herself is “living on bark and bitterness.”
Other memorable songs include the touching “Ecstasy,” the frivolous “Fast Johnny,” and especially “Never Known,” an ode to those who do not see their own remarkable qualities. “Fickle” and “Sister” are two songs mid-set that some may glance over, but those who are attuned listeners are in for additional treasure.
Fervor Coulee has accidentally found all sorts of favourites over these twenty-three or so years of writing about roots music. Each is cherished for at least a little while, and some become essential, enduring friends for the musical journey. I suspect, based on Cottonwood that Megan Bee is in the latter category: I can’t wait to hear more of her music. Until then, this gorgeous, natural sounding album of pure insights and precious moments will remain close to hand. Pretty freakin’ impressive.