Cathy Grier,
Comin' Back to Me
(Shane, 2002)

I shouldn't admit this, being a married woman and all. But I may have been seduced, lured into sin by Cathy Grier's plea to keep Comin' Back to Me. Oh, it's not a sexual thing, although Grier's low, pleading voice might well turn the ear of someone otherwise oriented. It's a more physical seduction, like hard liquor or sweet-painful hot peppers, growing out of the space where her dark chocolate voice meets her red cherry arrangements.

It's probably a destructive relationship. Romance fares badly on this album. From the opening "Comin' Back to Me," Grier is either struggling to pull herself out of love gone bad or trying to win over a hesitant new beau. She delights in her own person even as she shuffles through lovers; "Good Thing" is a proud, confident ode to self I wish more women would embrace. She's as ready to jump into "A Question of Desire" as to say "Easy Come, Easy Go" and let it slide, doing both with energy and an apparent nonchalance. The thunderheads of dreams deferred in "Dream Has Died" promise a storm every bit as wild and freeing as an escapade of "Stealing Hearts." Her compositions, her sense of lyric pacing, make a custom fit to her voice and leave you envying the broken-hearted wreckage on this path of passion.

Passion drives the album, and it's obvious that Grier's is more focused on the personal. The activist verse that makes up about half the album is attractive enough and has the same fine musical style as the love songs, but lose some of their sharpness. There are some gems -- "Lebanon" is intricate poetry, a love song to a world of rubble, and it has as much force and delicacy o delivery as any of the other love songs. It's when Grier tries to be universal that she begins to lose her appeal. "Fallen Friends" and "Privacy" are meant well, but their narrative is so broad that the force of the words dissipates, spreading out too far. The music is still captivating, and the songs are only unsuccessful by the standards of other songs on the album, but it's still a relief when Grier returns to the gritty details of daily love.

As for the music, well, Grier's playing blues. Think to yourself how blues should sound, when it's down to a singer and her guitar and the lights going out on the street. That's how she sounds. She plays the familiar riffs and new arrangements, and infuses even the simplest set of notes with the necessary soul to make it sing.

Like any other strong indulgence, Comin' Back to Me is best in small installments. Hearing the 21-track album all at once creates a drunken buzz that, while enjoyable, masks how sharp and special each song is. Taken in careful sets of a few songs at time, it delivers a firm jolt that has you coming back every time.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 6 September 2003