Lucy Billings really digs Mary Chapin Carpenter, so she tracked down her producer, John Jennings, and held his head under water—or maybe it was bourbon—until he hollered "Uncle!", taking her on while also adding his trademark instrumental magic. Okay, maybe that's not exactly what happened, but I'm betting she had to damn near sell her soul to locate and hire on fiddler Stuart Duncan, a guy who really spices up No Other Road. No matter what, though, Carpenter's influence truly shines in Billings' work, so, though Lucy's a red-head, don't expect any fiery temper or Gaelic tantrums in her music. She takes a measured approach through a sweet voice, and, oh, wait, did I mention she grabbed Lloyd Maines as well? Yep, she did.
Billings' interplay with Jennings is oft complex and compelling. Catch Rear View Mirror for an example, where the two circle each other as Brent Truitt's mandolin adds a third dimension, Duncan gliding above it all, a cut with several inner syncopations. And when I say the crimson-haired chanteuse warbles sweetly, I'm not joking; it's almost like your mother telling stories to send you off to sleep with sugar and a smile…or perhaps a bittersweet grin, as in Daddy's Last Drive, a tale of a rebellious lingering-loner father who went out in spectacular but down-home fashion, not in the hospital bed he dreaded. The song drips with mid-West humor, grit, and manliness—and, of course, Billings' female understanding.
Jennings did a great job of engineering as well, integrating everything with an uncanny precision that textures beautifully behind Billings' up-front vocals, instrumental backing forcing the listener to sit up and pay attention to the songstress while also sneaking behind to watch the guys play. Maines is extremely subtle in places, then right out front in brazen chops, always a clever cat no matter where you catch him, and Jon Carroll's keyboard playing strongly brings to mind Bruce Hornsby. Everyone is in fine fettle throughout No Other Road, and thus it's damnably hard to pick a top contender from the pack…so I won't.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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