Saturday, October 17, 2015

Linda McRae – Shadow Trails

Shadow Trails
Borealis Records

Last year, Linda McRae released Fifty Shades of Red, an excellent compilation of songs drawn from the four solo albums she’d recorded since leaving Spirit of the West, circa 1997. She returns with Shadow Trails, a genre blending new album that includes some of her best work.

Linda wrote or co-wrote all but one of the 12 songs on Shadow Trails. Among the highlights are “Charlie Parr,” co-written with producer Steve Dawson, a tribute to a fellow musician whose performance of traditional blues songs moved her at a music festival; “Flowers of Appalachia,” Linda’s old-time sounding setting of lyrics by Ken Blackburn, an inmate at New Folsom Prison in California who she met while conducting a songwriting workshop there; “Singing River,” inspired by the story of Te-lah-nay, a member of the Native American Yuchi tribe which was forcefully relocated from Alabama to Oklahoma in the 1830s, who escaped the relocation and spent five years walking home; and “Jesus or Jail,” co-written by James Whitmire and M.C. Hansen, and sung from the perspective of a person on the edge who needs to make a choice about which way to turn in their life.

But, despite all the fine original material, my absolute favorite on the album is the one song she didn’t write or co-write. “When Love is a Game,” a previously unreleased song by my late friend Willie P. Bennett, is a beautiful and wise commentary about treating love frivolously that sounds like it could have been a hit for Patsy Cline back in the day. Along with Linda’s heartbreaking vocals, the arrangement features some gorgeous pedal steel work by Steve Dawson and the equally gorgeous harmonica playing of Ray Bonneville.

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--Mike Regenstreif

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