Becky Schlegel,
For All the World to See
(Lilly Ray, 2008)

What hath Alison Krauss wrought?

What she's wrought, for one thing, is For All the World to See, part of what seems to be an emerging genre of ... well, in the traditionalists' complaint, whatever that genre may be that is neither quite country nor quite bluegrass, though elements of both are audible. Nobody's given it a name yet, but one is surely on the way. Meantime, call it a kind of pop music, slickly produced yet not rendered sterile with studio gimmickry; it's urban and urbane while faintly -- if ever more faintly -- rural and rustic. The singers are women with clear, expressive voices, taking the personal and romantic point of view. Neither a note nor a hair is out of place.

As with Krauss and other among her contemporaries, Becky Schlegel bows to bluegrass instrumentation on some cuts, those featuring acoustic guitars, fiddle, dobro, mandolin and Scruggs-style banjo, and she even manages 3:19 of unadulterated trad bluegrass in the nicely done "99%." Mostly, though, the songs -- all Schlegel originals -- are shadow-washed relational meditations. The closest she gets to a Monroe/Stanley-style memory of the old home place is the closer, "Hills of South Dakota," which looks back to her upbringing in the western half of that western state. It's a decent, well-crafted piece. In it, however, the landscape serves as the setting for the sorts of gloomy reflections on lost love to which the other tunes also give voice, albeit sans nostalgia and geographical references. "Hills" doesn't sound remotely like a folk song, either.

Schlegel, who lives in the Twin Cities, is an excellent vocalist, just not a country one in any historically understood sense. In other words, she sounds (and, I might add, looks) a lot like a sparer, relatively more downhome representation of the young women who labor in today's Nashville hit factories. If you like Alison Krauss, you will like Becky Schlegel, who does what she does with undeniable flair and professionalism. If, on the other hand, your tastes run to Molly O'Day, Wilma Lee Cooper and Cousin Emmy (as, sigh, do mine), here's your chance to prove how out of touch you are. Go ahead, moan that much of even bluegrass -- bluegrass, once thought to be country's purer cousin -- is being absorbed, maybe disappearing, into a Nashville pop-generated big-city sound.

review by
Jerome Clark

12 July 2008

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