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Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line

Wake – 2015 (Blue Pig)

Reviewed by Bill Caruthers

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CDs by Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line

As a follow-up to their critically-acclaimed debut "Carnival," Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line serve up love, confidence, and a compelling re-appreciation of childhood feelings, good and bad on "WAKE."

There is something familiar in the voice of Struthers, with equal parts of Kelly Willis and Natalie Maines on display, particularly on the driving "I Ain't Holdin' Back" and the hopeful "Let Go." Struthers is strong and sure, with a hummingbird undertone that is all her own. Writing or co-writing all 11 tunes here, Struthers opens up in this mostly hopeful collection that finds comfort and promise in tomorrow, while acknowledging both were once in short supply.

Demonstrative of this is "The Wire," as Struthers sings "I am ashamed it took finding him, to open my eyes," oblivious of being on the wrong end of a bad relationship until the right man came along. Another standout is "The Same Road," that speaks of "bright blue" just beyond the clouds. Following this vein is "The Other Side" (with guest banjo by Rob McCoury) in which a girl longs for the day she can (or remembers when she did) "ride" away from home and "The South" about home being where the heart is.

Breaking the introspective mood are upbeat "Dreamin'" and "Don't Care" which are fun, hook driven selections, tailor-made to showcase the musicians in live performances. Be warned, some of the lyrics are unusual. The line "If I was a crocus, lovin' you would be the spring" in "Loving You," and the repeated, grating simile, "like meat loves salt," in "When I Wake," are examples. The repetitiveness of the refrain in "Mistake" grows old as well. Still, the phrasing, inflection, and sincerity of the singer, coupled with the exceptional musicianship of band, carry the day and make "WAKE" something approaching a minor Americana masterpiece.