Coty Hogue,
When We Get to Shore
(Perpetual Hoedown, 2012)

On When We Get to Shore, a live album, Coty Hogue, a Montana-born, Washington (state) resident, offers up a set of songs that one might expect to encounter in separate concerts and by separate artists. The first half features pop-flavored originals and covers (including the obligatory Bruce Springsteen composition "I'm on Fire," the object of obsession to acoustic musicians if we may judge from its ubiquity on recordings in recent years). The second is the folk part, highlighting songs such as "Going to the West," "Wedding Dress" and more.

Aaron Guest (12-string guitar) and Kat Bula (fiddle) provide Hogue with tasteful accompaniment as well as occasional backing vocals. Hogue (banjo and guitar) sings in a strong, unfaltering voice, sometimes to deliver originals that owe a debt to early Joni Mitchell -- nothing surprising or objectionable there, of course. Many singer-songwriters learned from Mitchell, who invented a style of personal expression that not many call "folk music" anymore. Or shouldn't, anyway.

At the same time Hogue, who has a graduate degree in Appalachian studies, knows her way around real -- which is to say traditional -- folk music. My taste being what it is, I am drawn more to her handling of this sort of material. Her "Motherless Children" reworks the tune and renders it more sweetly melodic than the one most revival singers -- perhaps most prominently the late Dave Van Ronk -- have sung it. "Going to the West," generally thought to have originated in Alabama in the 1830s, may take willfulness, or rank incompetence, to do badly. Like the most enduring songs in my life, I can recall the first time I heard it (it was by the New Lost City Ramblers). Even by the high standards other performers have brought to the song, Hogue's version stands out, casting the listener into a dream of departure into the unknown. The CD closes with a marvelous voice-only reading of the late Hazel Dickens's "Pretty Bird."

The first part of the album is all right, especially if you're more taken with acoustic-pop songwriting than I am, but the second half is where the gold awaits.

music review by
Jerome Clark

10 November 2012

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