Everything Comes and Goes
[Rating: 4 stars]
She writes deep songs, deeper than their instrumental veneer and melodic flourishes might first suggest, like looking into what seems to be a pond to find an ocean underneath. Her first solo album in six years, it’s the follow-up to 2003’s poignant Hotel Paper, with the hit song “Are You Happy Now?” which emerged soon after her award-winning collaboration with Santana on “The Game of Love.” Michelle Branch was on the minds of many then, when she detoured to a duo project, The Wreckers, with her friend Jessica Harp.
Now comes Everything Comes and Goes, proof of an artist with a vast emotional range, from the dark tones of Texan campfire tales to the urgent romance of pop passion. Produced by the prodigious duo of John Leventhal and John Shanks, these tracks are powered by crisp, muscular drumming, and lavished with acoustic and electric washes of guitar, banjo, and of pedal steel. Her voice is gentle and powerful, and cuts through instrumental layers like a knife through butter, merging the whimsy and twang of Dolly Parton with the ethereal vulnerability of Stevie Nicks. Combine that with the earthy resonance of Dwight Yoakam, and you have “Long Goodbye,” a soulfully urgent duet, their voices blending like whiskey with water. “Summertime” expounds on a descending guitar riff reaching into the realm of an idyllic past as kids catch fireflies. It’s a great physical way to express the intangible, the seasons gone by, the summers that belong to memory. “Texas in the Mirror” is another sad reckoning of times gone by. Unfolding slowly as a meditative shuffle, she shows a remembered car trip through the Lone Star State with stark old movie images that surveys the vast lonely expanse of Texas “miles away from nothing.” A girl sings along with Elvis, connecting with what is past but never gone, as the slow forward motion of the car is felt by “the sky getting closer to the ground.” The final song, “Through the Radio,” is the saddest and most poignant one here. Hushed tones voiced against a plaintive finger-picked acoustic acknowledge that despite directness, distance is forever inherent between an artist and her audience: “I wonder if you’re out there listening to this song tonight/every single word bouncing off a satellite…”
In an interview, Branch once commented on the irony of winning awards and having nobody to share them with. Now comes this contemplation of the artist in modern times—touching the souls of others while remaining alone, where her poetry only makes sense as heard through the radio. It’s not the feel-good message one might expect from this hit-maker, but it’s a powerful sentiment, reaching places, as do all of these songs, beyond expectations.