I Can't Wait
(Red Beet, 2014)

Fayssoux, now Fayssoux McLean, used to be Fayssoux Starling, a name (and a memorable one at that) some of you may recall as attached to Emmylou Harris, whom Fayssoux accompanied on several of Harris's classic early releases. Her ex-husband John Starling co-founded the influential Washington, D.C.-based bluegrass band Seldom Scene in 1971. Recorded in Nashville, this is Fayssoux's second solo disc. The first, titled Early, was released in 2008. Alas, its title song is not the terrific Greg Brown-penned number about life in that small Iowa town.

I Can't Wait is a low-key recording, produced by singer-songwriters Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz. It's entirely acoustic, its dozen cuts drawing from elements of country, folk and bluegrass. If one may judge from the evidence here, Fayssoux is modest by nature; nothing answers to unflattering adjectives such as "bombastic" and "exhibitionistic." She wasn't born to rock 'n' roll, in other words. Its title sentiment notwithstanding, the CD often conveys a message of gentle patience through life's travails. One understands what Cooper means when he observes that Fayssoux offers "invitations to a kind and lovely south that I've not found when her voice is out of earshot."

Fayssoux herself has a hand in the writing of only five of the songs, and only two of these are solo efforts. Of the covers, her reading of Merle Haggard's "Mama's Hungry Eyes" is surely the standout. If it plays while you're doing something else, you'll cease all activity and give full attention to an interpretation so deeply felt that you wonder if she actually lived the experience. If not, she's done an impressive job of faking sincerity. After Haggard's own, this is the one I want to hear from now on.

If that song's political message is only implicit, RB Morris's "Hell on a Poor Boy" is in the bluntly radical spirit of a Woody Guthrie Dust Bowl ballad. In her liner notes Fayssoux remarks on Morris's energetic performance style. I haven't heard Morris's own arrangement of "Hell," but I have no doubt that it's more intense than Fayssoux's understated, conversational handling. Still, it's pretty good. Though I have no idea if Fayssoux knows of Rosalie Sorrels, Sorrels might have done it this way, and that's a compliment.

Those who have heard her before will not have to be told that Fayssoux's voice is a singularly touching instrument. It isn't meant to blow the doors open or alter one's consciousness. To the contrary, her music feels fitted to a calm and considered way of living in the world. As I listened to I Can't Wait, it occurred to me how rarely one hears that these days. Fayssoux inhabits that space comfortably and capably.

music review by
Jerome Clark

4 October 2014

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