Cyd Ward,
Between the Lines
(Ribbit, 2002)

I feel almost guilty, a little sad and a bit torn. I blame it completely on Cyd Ward's Between The Lines. It's a great album, with gorgeous lyrics and compelling instrumental work. I've played it four times in one night, and I'm still not entirely sure I like it.

Ward has a lovely voice, rich and clear, with a unique earthiness. Her guitar work could warrant an album itself, providing both a clear canvas for the elaborate lyrics of Ward's songs and great emotional color that doesn't distract from the vocals. The lyrics are consistently poetic, without getting so artistic they lose the story.

"What's It Like In Maine" opens the album with a flourish of hearty guitar and a story of regretful wandering. "Hey Tarzan" is clearly a message song, with symbolism aplenty. But while the words of the song strive for independence, the tune creates an atmosphere of fear and worry that undermines the attempted assertiveness of he song. "All Dressed Up" is one the best songs on the album, with a carefully neutral tone in its story of a woman's life through her dresses. The title song, "Between the Lines," a surprisingly unchallenging lovelorn breakup song, sounds almost dull between the near-perfect "All Dressed Up" and the angry shout of "Killing Time." Like "Hey Tarzan," "Killing Time" is a song trying to spread a message, and only partly successful. The run-on drumbeat of the lyrics creates the right atmosphere of anxiety. The music tries hard for an urgent pace, but doesn't quite make it in spite of the drumbeat insistence of the words.

It's a shame so much of the album is devoted to lonesome reminiscence and heartbreak, because the more positive songs are wonderful. "The Minstrel" adds a soft Renaissance flavor to Ward's usual acoustic style, the recorder buoying up a hopeful story of magic found and lost, but still not out of reach. "Can We Make a Family" offers up a hopeful dream so fragile it could break at a word, while carrying the full strength of someone able to put their past mistakes behind them. Ward's voice is perfectly suited to this quiet moment of change, and the soaring notes of the recorder set the right contrasting note to shy guitar. "Fear of Heights" is a perfect mix of the fear and exhilaration that come with new love and has a great country rock sound that's downright electric after the lonesome acoustic offerings that cover the rest of the album.

However powerful, the hopeful notes on Between the Lines can't hold up against the flow of loss, heartbreak and faded dreams. Whether it's the loss of a love in ""Maybe I Will" or the loss of hope and future in "Knights" and "Sonny's Dream," the litany of disappointment and grief is overwhelming. The closing "Next Time," with its view of time as "pain that never ends and pleasures that never last," pulls the whole album into focus, and it's a rather depressed one.

Between The Lines is so sad and lonely that I want to tuck it in a blanket and give it chocolates until it feels better. I'm not sure I enjoy feeling sorry for music, even when it's beautiful and seductive as this. But if you're feeling lost and lonesome yourself and looking for some sympathy, I can't think of a kinder and more graceful companion than Between The Lines.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 26 April 2003

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