Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
There are some vocalists whose voice is so distinctive that they immediately distinguish themselves from the larger pack. On the female side are singers like Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, Amy Winehouse … and plenty of others; voices you only need hear once to know they don’t sound like anyone else. While Beth Bombara isn’t quite in that hallowed company, she stakes out a unique and immediately different singing style, especially obvious on this new release.
It has been evident on her previous five sets, but really kicks in on Evergreen, her first since 2017. From the opening riff of “I Only Cry When I’m Alone” to the deep swamp groove of “Does It Echo,” Bombara’s husky, velvety voice slices through the songs with subtle yet deceptive power. Part Shannon McNally, part Chrissie Hynde, Bombara digs into her songs with determination and bittersweet honesty.
It also helps that she — in conjunction with bassist/husband Kit Hamon — has written powerful material and employed some new band members to assist in interpreting it. The group connects to pound out sturdy jangle rock in tracks like “Upside Down,” where she sings about turning her life around, and the garage gritty “Good News.” Even the disc’s few ballads, like “Growing Wings” with its sweet, soaring pedal steel and slide-guitar underpinning lines like “All this progress but nothing new,” feel more like the rugged cosmic Americana of the Flying Burrito Brothers than most country-influenced artists.
Perhaps this confidence is due to Bombara’s “Tenderhearted” lover. She sings, “It’s been a rollercoaster year but it’s the best we’ve had,” admitting “It’s never gonna be perfect but I’m still gonna try” to arguably the disc’s most hook-heavy chorus. She gets angry in “Criminal Tongue” with “All the world’s a cage so let’s put on a grand display,” implying a connection to today’s political situation as overdubbed guitars bite and growl. And on the closing “All Good Things,” understated strings underscore lyrics of “… if this is great again then where did we begin,” another, perhaps more direct, statement on the current administration.
The simply titled Evergreen finds a freshly invigorated Beth Bombara fronting a tight, taut band and performing her songs with the fortitude of an artist coming into her own after years touring the endless highway. Don’t let this one pass you by.