Asked what makes a great country song, songwriter Harlan Howard said, "Three chords and the truth." Jane Kramer believes it, enough to have the phrase tattooed on her arm. She also writes and sings true-life folk songs, ones in which she might be portrayed as hero or villain. It's an earnest mindset that practically fills the air of Kramer's native Asheville, N.C. - those Blue Ridge Mountains and big skies reveal themselves honestly every day; people should do likewise.
This is Kramer's first homecoming record since an experiment living on the West Coast - so even the pensive passages have a certain underlying sense of comfort in one's own skin. That emotionally distant lover might be "Half Way Gone" in the fiddle-rich opener, but Kramer sounds happy belting it out loud. She ponders her own identity on the soft dirge of "Good Woman," which include blistering lines like "I want to be better / but what if better's not enough?" A lot of these songs sound soaked in whiskey and whatever wisdom comes from too much of it ("Why'd I Do That Blues," "Highways, Rivers, and Scars").
Kramer has a vocal knack for seeking out the 'discovered' note - a stress or tone change that you wouldn't expect, like Billie Holliday. It's a signature trick, but the songwriting's the real star here. All were self-penned except for Tom Petty's "Down South," which thematically fits right in. Some listeners might tire of hearing too much of Kramer's bad choices. But this set outdistances standard confessional music.
Of special note is the title track, a magnum opus. Kramer makes emotional peace with a lover that's moved on, finding the resolve to forgive everyone, including herself. It's 5 minutes, 27 seconds, and the truth.