The Art of Virtue
A review written for the Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange
I would say that The Art of Virtue is Adrienne Young's defining moment but I'm sure it's not, as good as it is. Fifteen songs say it's not. Fifteen primo, heart-wrenching, footstomping, choogling, upbeat and emotionally crushing songs which pick you up, make you dance, make you cry and make you human say that her defining moment is yet to come because, oh man, she has it. She has IT. Now, if I could only find the words to tell you what it is.
She straddles a variety of styles, which might be a negative for one less talented, but she has it. Did I mention that? There's a touch of country (and not the hard-driving rock being called country these days--- wearing a cowboy hat cannot substitute for the feel), a little hillbilly, a leaning toward folk and traditional, a surprising amount of pop (which means, to me, melody) and a lot of in-between, which makes her music a treasure, for traditional purists and bluegrass fanatics and country lovers and even pop fans should be able to relate.
She has an exceptional voice, if that helps, though we've all heard great voices hit the critical wall. One performance outside limitations, be it range or style, have turned more than one project sour, but Adrienne Young knows Adrienne Young and if anything sour transpired during the sessions, it was left on the cutting room floor. The one thing that really sticks out is her ability to blend with others. Duets with Will Kimbrough shine and the ensemble harmonies are magic, be they for effect or just the beauty of it all.
Standouts for me are many. Brokedown Palace is slow and haunting, a ballad of the first water, and the version here has me actually thinking of checking out The Grateful Dead once more (never one of my favorite bands, but maybe Adrienne knows something I don't). The Art of Virtue is upbeat and powerful (in an acoustic kind of way) and with a power pop background that would fit nicely amongst Carolyn Arends' pop classics. Hills and Hollers echoes forties or fifties country and western, but without the twang and with the sensibility of one who knows what we lose in the world every day. My Sin Is Pride drives a spike into my heart every time I hear it, thanks to its being a fine, fine song and Adrienne and Will's voices driving it home. Golden Ticket is an instrumental fiddle piece written by the fiddle player, Eric Merrill, who slices his way through his version of fiddle-eze with ease, thank you (Google him. His CD recently became available and is well worth checking out, too). For the real traditionalist, Farther Along/Billy In the Low Ground is a pleasure, sounding a lot like what Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver has been putting out for years (for the record, this track features not Little Sadie, but Broken Drought, a quite exceptional group of bluegrassers in their own right).
Adrienne herself produced this, but I really believe it was a group effort. Credits also go to the aforementioned Will Kimbrough and one Gary Paczosa, who probably had more input than we will ever know.
One thing I find interesting is that Adrienne went out of her way to record at a studio still using analog. I believe the choice telling in that many of the digital CDs I have come across sound great on headphones but lack the clarity and punch on speakers unless played loud. This plays well both ways and whether it was the analog that did it or not, I prefer to think it is.
Adrienne Young and the people who believe in her put their belief in the packaging, as well. The CD comes in a three-leaf digipak with booklet inserts, all very tastefully done. Huge thumbs up for that alone.
On a personal note, there is something about Adrienne Young's music which strikes deep. She's not going through motions here and she isn't playing and writing because it's better than taking a job at a bank. She feels it. She feels IT. I know she does. And lucky me, I get to feel it, too. To be honest, there are times when I hear this, I just have to laugh. And God knows, we can always use a little more laughter in this world.
Page design by David N. Pyles