4 stars out of 5
Claire Lynch’s latest release, New Day, marks a long-awaited return for the venerated singer-songwriter. It is the first offering since her string of acclaimed albums in the 1990s that ended with 2000’s Lovelight. While the title may suggest a fresh phase for Lynch, in many ways New Day picks up right where Lynch left off—offering a fresh alternative to the homogenous bluegrass sound that often plagues the music today.
This continuity partly comes from the album’s personnel. While David Harvey (mandolin) is a newcomer, Jim Hurst (guitar) and Missy Rains (bass) are veterans of Lynch’s Front Porch String Band from the 1990s. A host of studio guests round out the core band, including Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Andrea Zonn (fiddle), Charlie Cushman (banjo), Alison Brown (banjo), and Rob Ickes (Dobro).
With so many familiar session players, how can New Day represent a fresh alternative? I’ll give you one hint: it’s not about the band. It’s about Lynch. Her voice rings with an elegance, grace, and nuance rarely heard among bluegrass singers, male or female. Such songs as “Be Ready to Sail,” “Down in the Valley,” “Only Passing Through,” or her self-penned “I Believe in Forever,” showcase Lynch’s delicate delivery at her best.
She’s not afraid of putting the blues in bluegrass, either, as indicated by “Train Long Gone,” “White Train,” “Leavin’ on that Evening Train” (notice a theme here?), and a great remake of “Up This Hill and Down.” And no matter who backs her up, Lynch always manages to extract that classic Front Porch groove from her band. All this coupled with a taste of Hot Club swing (“Fallin’ in Love”) makes Lynch’s latest effort a welcome departure from the typical bluegrass fare.
While a couple of the twelve tracks on New Day may be more tame in their emotional and musical “punch,” this album holds the kind of promise that makes one eager for Lynch’s next project. If New Day is any indication of things to come, I think we are all in for a wonderful “new era” of Claire Lynch.
by Kevin Kehrberg