It's easy to love a natural talent. Yet there's something to be said for that student with promise, who matures into a master. Jami Lynn Buttke acquired her bona fides attending two universities for voice performance, including a thesis in folk music of the Upper Midwest. South Dakota is her beat, her breath and blood. By the end, you won't necessarily know more about those towns with gunfighter names where Lynn often tours (places like Spearfish and Deadwood). But you will know something of the deep inner lives of the characters there and how their spirits vibrate with longing and resiliency.
Imagining a more depressing title for a CD than "Fall Is a Good Time to Die" is hard. But as Lynn explains the title track in live performances, it's about aging grandparents, and their readiness to release a long life well-lived. The sweet arrangement feels like a joyful last dance. Fellow stringmaster/co-producer Dalton Coffey adds so much dimension to these songs that it's really a partnership - whatever he's playing, especially Dobro, becomes a musical conversation. Thanks to Lynn's own guitar/banjo proficiency and the enlisted help, these tracks elevate beyond coffeehouse fare.
To be sure, we hear about the Dakota Black Hills, which we're told are closer to Heaven ("God Out on the Plains"). But the listener also gets treated to some tasty Delta licks ("Sturm & Drang") and a march up Appalachia ("Polywogs"). This gives the heartland some width and perspective. One might begrudge the overuse of the animal metaphor - something Lynn herself acknowledges. But the predators in these tales vary: there's the fox that runs at the first sign of trouble and a coyote more dangerous than recent prospects have afforded. With the gorgeous acoustic work and melodies ready for a music box ("The North Wind"), this collection is a listener's delight.
And Lynn's lyrical mining of secret hearts really takes us to places beyond the plains. From "Red Fox": "I don't carry my house with me / I stay rooted in this Hell / Now all my curves have each got corners / Like I've outgrown some old shell." This is a student who's earned her degree.