Finding yourself

This may be Beth Bombara's first self-titled album, but she's been releasing music since 2007. After two EPs and two full albums, I have a feeling the reason this one is self-titled is that Bombara feels she has finally found her voice.

Beth Bombara
Beth Bombara

For a singer-songwriter, even one who uses the full americana palette, that voice is paramount. Some songwriters are chameleons, creating new characters with each songs. Liz Phair and Nick Lowe are good examples of this. Some others, like James McMurtry or Tift Merritt, tend to stick to a more consistent perspective. As the names I gave indicate, there's no right way to do this. But when all four of these artists are at their peaks, they are fully in touch with their voices.

The voice is that intangible confidence that can lift an average song into the stratosphere--and take a great song into history. This voice can come and go; Ryan Adams is a great example of a singer who often seems to not trust his voice. To my ear, he keeps trying to find a new one. Some are good, and some are not. But Adams's insecurity has led to some surprisingly inconsistent work.

Bombara shows a willingness to range widely in search of sounds that suit her voice. There's plaintive folk, Caitlin Cary-esque country rock, blues-tinged ballads and simple rockers. And while there's nothing particularly special about the songs themselves, Bombara inhabits them so fully that they bloom in wondrous ways.

Some of the credit also goes to her husband, Kit Harmon, who is her full collaborator on this album. These songs often feature a musical interplay that might well also imitate Bombara's and Harmon's personal dynamic. Everything falls into place, and then Bombara's voice ties it up in a bow.

She sings like she knows these songs work. That sounds like an obvious thing to do, but it isn't. Bombara dives right in and sits herself down in the middle of each song. She fully inhabits and gives a nuanced performance on each piece. There's no dancing around or skittishness; just a solid confidence that this is the music that she should be singing.

The obvious can be the hardest path to take sometimes. Certainly, Bombara's voice wouldn't be nearly so strong if these songs didn't work. Nonetheless, she's been doing this long enough that I assume she can feel when her voice is coming through. This is an album worthy of the self-title.

Jon Worley

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