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Sarah Pierce

Barbed Wire – 2015 (Little Bear)

Reviewed by Jeff Lincoln

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CDs by Sarah Pierce

If you Google "Sarah Pierce," you'll learn about an early American educator who founded a landmark school. Try "Sarah Pierce Texas," and you'll find a lot more related to the singer-songwriter who records out of Austin. There's something to that, as Lone Star sensibilities permeate the songs and values of the cattleman's daughter. This is far from her first rodeo - "Barbed Wire" is her ninth release - but to hear her tell it, this record represents some of the most personal work she's done.

Pierce didn't really come to bellyache - right from the opener "(Small Town") you learn that she loves where she lives, she's got a great man, and the neighbors always check on her. Even when life sends rough patches, Pierce stands defiant. She's honed a gunfighter's spirit. The topics are charming, but this is country/western music that's undergone a sort of twang-dectomy. Sometimes a mandolin or banjo sneaks in, but it's the persistence of the same mid-tempo that wears on the listener. Even the "party" song ("Light It Up") has a restraint, like the rhythm section's riding a brake. Things improve when they highlight Pierce's honeysweet voice - "Find My Way Back to You" is a standout, with a lot of air and sensual delivery. The speedier ode to friendship "Saddle Up" also hits its mark, via bluegrass.

Pierce's lyrics have few curveballs or slick metaphors - you're much more likely to hear plainspoken truths or recollections. There's autobiography at a level not many artists would be game to do. (Pierce practically gives her address at one point.) "I'm the Daughter of a Cowboy's Wife" even takes on a father that left; but a scar or two's fine in this part of the country. One might wonder if she's really as tough and together as she claims. But better to leave the question on the table - who wants to mess with Texas?