Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Silver and Ash - Clare Burson
Silver and Ash
New Rounder Records.
SCQ Rating: 78%
Even at the crossroads of modern folk, where a songwriter’s stripped-back basics of guitar and voice can feel pressured to beef up arrangement-wise, no choice of strings or brass can rival an artist’s natural allure. Not even contextualizing one’s debut as a tale about a grandmother's life in Europe from 1919 through 1938 can disguise a flat or well-tread voice, but Clare Burson doesn’t need to worry about that. Dressing these potent folk songs with overcast production while superseding her narrative complexities with a restrained but unique vocal delivery, Burson serves a powerful collection with Silver and Ash.
The most immediate comparative point Silver and Ash suggests is Sarah Harmer’s career-making You Were Here, a record that tried its hand at Top 40 rock, alt-country and folk without ever sounding stretched. In line with Silver and Ash’s quirky subtext, Burson takes greater risks trying to iron out its genre-conquests. The lone guitar sparking ‘The World Turns On a Dime’ could’ve been inspired by early Elliott Smith but quickly plateaus into a world-weary gypsy waltz whereas ‘Goodbye My Love’ carries the elegance of a war-time ballad but feels timeless nonetheless. These mild detours encompass Silver and Ash’s slight stretches, acting as welcomed wrinkles in an otherwise sleek sequencing of folk-rock songwriting.
Burson’s romanticism seems at peace with a sense of remorse that pervades these arrangements. The simple acoustic finger-picking on ‘The Only Way’ receives moody contrast courtesy of some distant but crucial electric feedback no differently than how airy keys offer ‘Magpies’ a heart-wrenching nostalgia. What’s idyllic and assured in Burson’s guitar gels effectively to the lovely gloom that surrounds it, and between these two halves of her lyrical tales weaves her voice, suitably anchored to life’s present and past.
Although no aspect of this record sounds rushed or undercooked, Silver and Ash occasionally risks being too deliberate with its ambitions. In the midst of these fresh yet familiar songs, Burson drops the personality-deficient ‘Losin’ You’, all hum-drum verses and big, swooning choruses. Perhaps its inclusion was Burson’s desire to kindle some momentum for the record’s second-half but its paint-by-numbers disposition screams out like a bid for radio play. ‘Losin’ You’ doesn’t betray Silver and Ash’s hard-fought beauty, nor does it stand-out immediately as a bland song. If anything, it’s a brief glance at Clare Burson on her heels, perhaps assuming some pressure to embrace accessibility on someone else’s terms. The rest of Silver and Ash thankfully plays by her own rules, and is confidently superior to anything the radio-waves can offer.