The twofer format here is not the cornucopia it seems, a bit deceptive in that both discs combined still add up to about 45 minutes, though there's a sufficiently marked difference in atmosphere between the twain to warrant the separation. During the last 14 years, Suzi Ragsdale, daughter of the famed Ray Stevens, has released only one CD of her own songs. Listening to this excellent double handful, you'll be a little astonished that this has been so, as she shows a full-blooded investment in every cut, a singer-poetess of the heart and sky. With producer-musician Tim Lauer, Ragsdale has crafted a dozen pieces of Americana rich in nuance and narrative, well underscored in her own piano playing.
Trust me, as someone who's done his damnedest to find merit in such past female voices as Melissa Manchester, Martha Velez, Rita Coolidge, Nicolette Larson, and others, I've too often come away at best half fulfilled, curious as to what I might've been missing. Well, nothing had really passed by; the ladies were just too formulaic, standard, impersonal, whereas Ragsdale presents a more vibrant light, often Randy Newmanish, a centered Paul Williams, much more a Lucinda Williams / Indigo Girls / Dixie Chicks than Helen Reddy or Anne Murray (who has recorded Ragsdale's work).
My favorite cut? Less of the Same, which reminds me a bit of JP Jones' Long Blue Train, a song of frustrated love with a very strong melodic base and a progressive feel that builds and transcends a number of conventions, a sure chart climber…on an intelligent radio station, that is. There is, however, a good deal of mellow swing and rustic root to many of the selections, occasionally growing country rock-ish (Troublemaker, with Rodney Crowell dueting on vocals) amid hip upswing and sass. The entire assemblage is absorbing, much more an exercise in music and songmaking than mere ditties and hit hopefuls drowning in formulaic pap.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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