Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Some solo artists prefer to stick with a consistent backing band when recording. Nashville based singer-songwriter Kim Richey challenges that notion on studio album number eight by utilizing no less than three separate groups of musicians for her first release in five years.
Richey has been through plenty of music biz ups and downs in her quarter-century career and Edgeland — her sophomore effort on the Yep Roc label — is the fifth imprint she has been associated with. Employing veteran producer/multi-instrumentalist Brad Jones also shakes things up resulting in one of Richey’s more instrumentally varied sets since her 1995 self-titled debut.
While 2013’s Thorn In My Heart stayed primarily in soft mode, 2018’s model ramps ups the eclectic instrumentation, if not the volume — the players contribute everything from electric sitar to Bouzouki, vibraphone and resonator guitar — which brings refreshing variation to Richey’s sweet vocals. Strings arranged and played by Chris Carmichael add subtle drama to tracks such as the ruminative “Black Trees,” (“don’t know where we’ll sleep tonight/ someplace far from here”), the apologetic country strut of “I Tried” (“I tried to love you like I said I would”) and especially the ravishing, unapologetic mid-life defiance of “Chase Wild Horses,” (the full lyric goes “I don’t chase wild horses anymore”) this disc’s most riveting track and a new highlight in Richey’s catalog.
Three guitarists including Chuck Prophet — who appears on three tunes — and Robyn Hitchcock, ring out on the sweet Tom Petty/Searchers-inspired “Can’t Seem To Let You Go,” a song about a brief summer fling that the protagonist would like to keep alive. It’s a song that begs to be blasted at high volume while cruising down the road and is a natural choice for a future single. On the sensitive, string and Mellotron-enhanced “Your Dear John,” Richey takes the part of a man working on the Ohio River who thinks that if he refuses to read a breakup letter, it doesn’t exist.
She partners with male singers Mando Saenz, Pat McLaughlin and the aforementioned Prophet for duets on some of this album’s most affecting and lovely performances. Richey’s sound effortlessly meshes strands of folk, pop, country and occasionally subtle bluegrass for an Americana feast that feels honest, heartfelt and emotionally sincere. Perhaps a few more upbeat tracks would help this disc’s flow, which is heavily dominated by ballads.
Credit her musically restless nature with creating a stirring album. Edgeland’s primary themes of fading, lost and unrequited love cohere around Richey’s enticing, expressively emotive voice and natural ability to capture life’s more melancholy situations with a commanding yet understated melodic and lyrical integrity.