Corinne West,
Second Sight
(Make Records, 2007)

Second Sight, her second CD (I haven't heard the first), places Corinne West's songs into arrangements that borrow from bluegrass and rooted contemporary folk. You might immediately think of Alison Krauss minus the ever more cloying romantic-pop gloss.

West's idea of a romantic song, the lovely "Hand Full of Gold," feels like a bridge over a river of traditional acoustic country, stretching all the way from the Carter Family on one shore to Krauss at her finest on the other. At other points -- e.g., the title song, even more so "Diamonds to the Wind," to the juncture at which one wonders if conscious homage is the intention -- West will surely bring Bob Dylan to mind. One may also think here and there of the cerebral folk-pop songwriting of Rosanne Cash.

The cut that will most likely hit you on first spin of the disc, however, is "Hell Yes," a cheerfully up-tempo song revisiting West's early life, when she dropped out of school at 15 to roam the country in a busful of artists, musicians and radicals before she settled in San Francisco, her current home. The chorus, impossible to resist, affirms exuberantly, "Would I recommend it? Hell yes!" Also outstanding is the more tradition-based "Gandy Dancer," among the most congenial new bluegrass songs I've heard this year.

The elegant production comes courtesy of acoustic-music heavyweight Mike Marshall, who plays mandolin on each cut. Marshall brought other big names to the project: Jerry Douglas (dobro), Darol Anger (fiddle) and Tony Furtado (banjo), along with some sensitive and capable West Coast pickers. Organist John Burr and drummer Scott Amendola show up on occasion to contribute a few tasteful non-bluegrass notes.

West's always strong vocals and well-crafted material elevate Second Sight well above the plane at which one encounters merely ordinarily accomplished, gravity-bound roots recordings. With any luck we'll be hearing more of her.

review by
Jerome Clark

9 February 2008

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