Kathy Muir – Second Life
It is refreshing to hear an album so committed to presenting fully rounded material. Kathy Muir’s third album Second Life doesn’t just succeed on a musical level, but it scores big on a lyrical level as well. Muir’s lyrics are full of plain-spoken poetry and exquisite imagery in equal measure and never aspire to any sort of pseudo-poetic incomprehensibility. The musical qualities are abundant. Melodies abound and the instrumentation is beautifully tasteful without ever missing opportunities. The production gives the music a great sonic forum to reach the listener and the urgency of its sound keeps the songwriting sounding intimate from first song to the final track. This is an improvement over her two preceding albums, but the observation is no slight on those earlier efforts. Second Life is just that damn good.
“Lucky One” has equal amounts of sarcasm and tenderness that Muir’s vocal communicates with a same balance of emotion. Her phrasing is perfect for the song while never overplaying its emotions. The arrangement is here to work in sympathy with the lyrics and singing performance. “Better Man” is the album’s first true high water mark. There’s something witheringly precise about Muir’s lyrical observations and she never flinches from the bitter realities of the situation. It is communicated with an utter lack of sentimentality. The rugged, high-stepping energy of “Stop Messin’ Me Around” cuts loose from the beginning and bristles with powerful velocity born from its live recording. Hearing Muir talk before the first notes begin is essential to the listening experience.
“I Want To Lay Down” is one of the most tender moments on Second Life and delivered without a hint of spoof or irony. Instead, Muir gives herself over entirely to the lyric and seems to be trying to capture a perfect, crystalline moment in song. She is successful. The unwavering march of “Born by the Water” has a lightly spiritual, meditative quality in its lyric and some compelling imagery to drive its points home. Muir gives the right amount of force to her vocal without ever allowing her personality to take over the performance. Another shade of that aforementioned meditative quality returns in the folk song “Like Warriors” and the lyric sparkles with enough fluency that many will likely remember it as among the album’s best. “Troubled Town” does a good job of mixing the personal with character study in a very spare track carried forward by nothing else except Muir’s voice and moody, but often very beautiful piano playing. The album’s last song is the title track and Muir makes another notable stylistic turn here. The song is relatively unadorned and, instead, relies on bringing a classical backing together with the bracing emotive qualities of her voice. The mix works extraordinarily well.
Muir shows real instincts as a storyteller ending the album on such a note. Second Life takes a spin through a variety of moods, but the track listing gives listeners a clear, if not entirely obvious, progression from the first song through the finish. This sort of unity is seldom heard in popular music these days, regardless of genre. Kathy Muir’s talent continues its blooming and burns brighter than ever here.
9 out of 10 stars.