Katy Moffatt,
Loose Diamond
(Hightone, 1999)

Heartbreak is one of the themes country does best, and Katy Moffatt has an ideal voice for it -- sad without being maudlin. The songs on Loose Diamond are in a classic country style someplace between roots and the current style almost indistinguishable from pop; the arrangements are modern, but well within the country tradition, including a little twang in the guitars and slow fiddling that accent the heartache of the songs.

Country music deals with complicated situations better than most genres, I think, and "Here We Go" is a good example: it tells the story of a couple who married, broke up and are now falling back into love. It's a complicated situation leading to complicated feelings, and the song reflects all the hope and ambivalence they feel. "Stoned at the Jukebox" is a song about the music as well as the breakup, and how music comforts people. Moffatt's version is excellent.

Breakups are hard, and "I Walk Alone" distills all the feelings into one lonely song, with a mournful accompaniment accenting the lyrics. "Wheel" says "I guess we just can't be friends" as it recognizes the need to break up. Co-written by Moffatt and Rosie Flores, the lyrics are remarkable and an excellent match with the melody.

"The Cuckoo" is one of the most interesting songs on the album. It's the only traditional song, and Moffatt's duet with Dave Albin is dark, somewhat reminiscent of Steeleye Span. It's a stunning track, with the sad lyrics made menacing by the brooding arrangement.

"So Long Baby Goodbye" is an early rock song at its core, here done in impeccable country style. It's interesting to hear it, and compare it in imagination to what it might sound like by the Everly Brothers. The two "Fools" songs are also up-tempo: "Fools Fall in Love" and "Big Fool" are affectionate looks at hopeless romantics. Both are bouncy and happy songs that deplore the foolishness of love while eagerly falling into it.

"Whiskey, Money and Time" are three ways of dealing with a broken heart, if only one has enough of each. This song brings together all the elements country does well, and Moffatt carries it off beautifully. "Burning Memories" mourns the past, but its sadness blends with resignation as the singer "burn[s] memories just to feel the flame." "Loose Diamond," in contrast, mourns a love that never was; unrequited love is its own kind of tragedy.

"Waiting for the Sun to Shine" is as close as this album comes to a pop song. It would make a nice one, but the country version touches the heart in a way that slick pop can't.

Loose Diamond is a wonderful country album, and one I think any country fan would love -- especially those of us that prefer our country to be distinguishable from pop. I also hope admirers of modern folk have a chance to hear "The Cuckoo," especially those who like traditional songs performed in a very nontraditional way; this is an amazing song, and I'd love to hear more in this vein by Moffatt. I'll be looking for more of her music!

[ by Amanda Fisher ]



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