Carrie Biell is musical stealth at its best. She sneaks up on you like the first Widmer's Hefeweisen when you take the first sip of the third. You want to say, man, that's good, but you don't know why and by then it doesn't matter anyway. You know it's good and that's enough.
Biell steps way beyond good here. Her songs are perfect medium for her breathy, textured voice which might seem at first a bit off-kilter but is oh, so on. She fits herself to each as if it is the only song she will ever write or perform and, as a result, you swear the one you're hearing at the moment is your favorite—until the next. Of course, picking a favorite comes with a price. These are intensely personal songs and at times you can't help but feel invasive, but Biell tries to put you at your ease. This is my life, she seems to be saying, and before the song ends you realize that it is your life too. Not in actual history, but in emotion.
No song drives it home more than Swinging, the song from which the album title is taken. "We had…wooden swings outside in my back…yard/And I thought…my own feet would always hit the...stars" she sings. Her mother is pushing her—a mother who cannot hear and eventually will lose sight as well. "And I knew she felt all alone…out there/As she stood behind pushing me/And I knew…she was not alone out there/We were swinging". An incredibly personal experience and an emotional sledgehammer to the heart. Add a spot on arrangement which utilizes a banjo hook which will be hard to get out of your head (and downright superb strings as well) and it pile-drives you into submission.
One wonders if Biell isn't channeling later Pink Floyd on Blackness Ain't the Thing. Ethereal pedal steel and upfront slightly fuzzed out guitar combine with a slow, plodding pace in a song worthy of Floyd in one of their floating and less psychedelic moments.
There are eight other fine tunes. Bound To Be is the anomaly here, an upbeat country tune which sounds straight out of Nashville. Last on the album, the assumption is that it was placed there because it is so out of step with the sound and feel of what precedes it. Regardless, a good song is a good song and this one is worthy of inclusion. Biell filters delicate touches of Neko Case on Dive, a light shuffling rocker, and the tremolo-propelled guitar of Steve Norman takes Rise Off Our Feet into the clouds, as does the soaring chorus. The combination of Katie Mosehauer's violin and Norman's spare dobro work with Biell's voice to give Gone Without Me a certain desolation which is bittersweet—alluring yet melancholic. A stunner.
An album as good as When Your Feet Hit the Stars should not be dissected, really, and I only do it to give a bare outline of Carrie Biell. She is as humble as she is talented and apparently surrounded by an amazing array of supporters. She goes out of her way to point out everyone's contributions: Shawn Simmons' abilities in the studio; Steve Norman's and Katie Mosehauer's importance to the music and the sound. Praise falls from her lips like lyrics from one of her songs, to the point that you think maybe she believes her contribution the least. Of course, that is not even remotely possible. This album is Carrie Biell: musician, composer, lyricist, producer. And one would have to add daughter. Biell's love for her mother and her ability to internalize it makes "Swinging" an awe-inspiring musical truth. This album is worth it for that alone.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Website design by David N. Pyles