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There's been a lot of good new music in 2011 already, but I think Carrie Elkin's new one is my album of the year so far. Her first release for Red House Records, there is something very special in the fact that Call It My Garden is all but formally a twin release with Danny Schmidt's Man Of Many Moons. Danny Schmidt is Carrie Elkin's partner and both their records address to some degree their coming together as a couple. The temptation is to review them as a pair but that would do both these artists a disservice - both records are about more than their relationship and, besides, are considerably different in character; so, ladies first.
I've missed out so far on Carrie's first album but 2007's Jeopardy Of Circumstance has been something of a favourite; the songs never seemed obvious - there's maybe just one singalong chorus on the whole album - but somehow the intricacies of the song, the poetry of her writing and the strength of her performance would wind you in every time. I was lucky enough to see her perform some of these songs, and in person it was easier to see what her magic element is: she's absolutely committed to her songs, to extracting all that she can from them and letting us really feel what they're all about. All of those strengths are here again on the new album but there's an extra quality in there, too. It would be glib to put it solely down to new found personal happiness but Call It My Garden is a notch more self-confident, more relaxed and more joyful than its predecessor. This might all have something to do with the circumstances of recording, as well. Re-united with her previous production team of Colin Brooks and Mark Addison (who between them also contribute a large part of the playing on the album), they recorded the whole album as Sam Baker's guests in his own house. Carrie was so taken with Sam's kindness that she wrote him a song ( Dear Sam ) which is included on the album but what comes over most of all is that between them all they established a really relaxed vibe to work in. Friends that dropped by got a guest slot somewhere along the way and something of the feel of back porch music making makes it on to the disc - alongside an admirably clear, elegant production job. This is folk music with a country twang; the emphasis is on the song and on Carrie's performance of it but there's plenty of steel guitar, banjo and mandolin to let you know the well from which they're drawing.
It's encounters with individual people that gets Carrie's songwriting juices flowing. Over and over again she gets captivated by somebody's story and she'll reach inside that story for a nugget of truth that we might all recognise. Sometimes it's her own story she's telling and on the occasions where she does seem to be referring to her own relationship there seems to be a calm happiness which is quite touching - introspection with a smile on her face. The album opens with a laugh - literally - and the opening two songs have a jauntiness about them that resurfaces on the closing track, Edge Of The World. This was apparently recorded live, without rehearsal and has a lovely ragged joy about it. She says that the song's about pushing your boundaries and taking leaps of faith - she and Danny have clearly been doing a lot of thinking about the whole business of commitment - and it's a song with some great lines in it. It's deeply romantic and mirrors just what I feel about the way life turned out for me - in my softer moments anyway - so I'm going to adopt it for myself.
As with Jeopardy Of Circumstance, there is just so much to enjoy about this album, some fresh moment of beauty that will catch your attention at each listening. Most of all, the sense of vivid connection to Carrie's experience and to her vision of the world epitomises why I listen to singer-songwriters like her and not to Madonna.
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