Amidst the hybrid country, commercial country and roots-country it's refreshing to hear that classic country sound, which we do not hear nearly enough today. Bring on Laura Benitez and the Heartache with "With All Its Thorns." This is her third album, and while the previous two were basically no-frills country, she and the band have added Cajun and Mexican influences by adding fiddle and upright bass as well as accordion. They alternate between electric and acoustic, depending on the needs of the tune.
Excepting the co-write "Something Better Than a Broken Heart" all songs were written by Benitez on her acoustic 1996 Epiphone Excelante. "It was given to me as a gift by my ex-husband, which is a great way to get a guitar if you're going to write country songs," she joked. "There are nicer guitars out there, and no doubt better sounding ones, but it was very important to me that the guitar I used to write every song on the album be the guitar I played when recording them."
The album is a collection of mostly autobiographical, vulnerable and often heart-wrenching songs, set up as stories with clever lyrics. For example, "In Red" was inspired by Benitez spilling red wine on her wedding dress and thinking that white was an impractical color to be married in. Thus, the line "I should have married you in red." The bluegrass "Nora Went Down the Mountain" is about a wife who leaves her husband never to return. "Ghostship" is the searing story about a fire that killed 36 people in a converted concert venue named Ghost Ship in Oakland in December 2016.
Benitez has a light, delicate voice, not unlike Laura Cantrell, for example. And, like Cantrell, she has enough of a contemporary edge to make her sound easy to relate to yet she comes from a different place than artists plying similar turf. Benitez describes it this way, "I'm a woman of mixed race in a world that wants you to be one thing or another, working in an industry that's still very much a boy's club, and I'm also a West Coast city dweller singing roots music. As I've gotten older I am much less afraid to tell my story as I see it, and I think that shows in my songwriting." Give Benitez a listen; she has some insights and observations worth hearing.