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Kim Richey

Thorn In My Heart – 2013 (Yep Roc)

Reviewed by Henry L. Carrigan Jr.

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CDs by Kim Richey

Kim Richey has certainly secured a reputation as a songwriter's songwriter, co-penning two number one hits: Believe Me, Baby I Lied for Trisha Yearwood and Nobody Wins for Radney Foster. On her follow up to 2010's "Wreck Your Wheels," Richey displays not only her songwriting chops, but also her rich, often soaring, vocals, and her canny ability to capture the vagaries of love, sex, misunderstanding, contempt and disappointment in musical styles ranging from traditional country to waltzes to cabaret tunes.

Even more, she's surrounded by many of her pals, including Jason Isbell, Yearwood, Carl Broemel of My Morning Jacket, Will Kimbrough and Pat Sansone of Wilco. Neilson Hubbard, who also lends harmony, acoustic guitar, and piano to several tracks, provides an impeccably produced album in his studio.

The spare acoustic guitar riffs that introduce the opening song, Thorn in My Heart, co-written with Hubbard, seduce and carry us quickly into a bare and melancholy reflection on the pain of a love that the protagonist is willing to hold onto but which she knows she never can. "You come to my house in the middle of the might/are you looking for love - are you looking to light...It'd hard to hold your hand when you're letting it go." Breakaway Speed, with Isbell sharing the vocals and Yearwood on harmony, gallops off with guitars blazing as the narrator bemoans the speed with which his lover has left him after a night of love; the song's opening line captures Richey's sly songwriting skills: "She could have made a river (slow-moving water), but she had to make rain (fast-moving, impermanent, water)." Richey channels Mary Chapin Carpenter on the rockin' Come On, co-written with Mike Henderson, and backed by Yearwood, in which the narrator counsels her lover to grab the moment, "believe in you and me," and head out on the highway. The waltz Love Is catalogs the many definitions of love, but discovers that true love stays for the season only between lovers who realize that love is something more than the sum of words about it.

The lights dim and the voices grow smoky on the cabaret tune I Will Wait, on which the protagonist declares that she'll be waiting "'Til the night stops falling/'til the sun goes cold/'til the rich man gives up all his gold." On the gospel-inflected Take Me to the Other Side the protagonist implores her lover to "shine some light into these eyes/show me what I need to see/help me through these troubled times." Once she's carried over to the other side, she can declare, with Richey on the final track that Everything's Gonna Be Good.

Richey possesses the songwriting genius of the late Laura Nyro, and her rich vocals echo the graceful tones of Emmylou Harris, Yearwood and Carpenter, and "Thorn in My Heart" showcases her talents quite powerfully.