A review written for the Folk & Music Exchange
By Mark Horn
GIVING BACK is more than just a title, it is the central theme of a career that spans two decades. From the opening track to the closing bars, Muller shares her special sense of our place in the world. Her view is revealed through her songs of joy and love for those around her.
Muller shows her range in musical stylings and instrumentation. The opening track is a powerful story about dreams, fulfillment and giving back. Musically, "Arrowhead" is classic Muller balladeering. It is a worthy anchor for her fourth release, showcasing Heidi's special ability to bridge story and emotion. "My Old Cat" is a lighthearted ditty about, well, what do you think? The dulcimer has become her signature instrument. It pops up throughout the album, though nowhere better than on the instrumental medley "Whiskey Before Breakfast/Over the Waterfall." Whether spinning lost love laments or bouncy Texas swing tunes, the artist manages to evoke deep emotions with simple accessible lyrics. That's some kinda talent!
The duet of "Don't Let Me Come Home a Stranger" is without a doubt my favorite version of a song that is becoming a folk classic. Dan Maher, the other half of this duet, also appeared on Heidi's previous CD Cassiopeia. Their voices blend so gently and naturally that they highlight each album. In this case, they eclipse both Tim and Mollie O'Brien's and Robin and Linda Williams' versions. That is quite a feat.
Those who have hiked the Appalachian Trail or are just familiar with its majesty and wonder will recognize "The Edge" as the Knife Edge at the northern terminus of that famous journey. On a more metaphorical level, the song touches that part of the personal psyche which causes us reach down inside ourselves for something extra. Once the challenge is met, one's soul is larger and the sky just a little wider.
Production and engineering are flawless. David Lange is among the best engineers in the Northwest. Heidi and Janis Carper blend their substantial talents to select arrangements that provide the perfect complement to the high quality of songwriting. Joining Heidi are some of the finest musicians in the Puget Sound region: Janis Carper, Tracy Spring, Larry Murante, Cary Black, Tracy Moore, Jeanie Murphy, Dan Maher, Paul Elliot, Nancy Rumbel and others. Rumbel's oboe work on "The Edge" was apparently a last minute decision, one that paid off big. I can't think of better welcome home on a cold winter's night than GIVING BACK in the CD player unless it's sharing the experience with someone you love. Treat yourselves to my pick for the season.