Long Time Coming (Rounder)
When things are grim, look up. When everything shut around you feels like it’s closing in, look outside. When those measures fail, put on Sierra Ferrell.
It’s not the only reason, it may not even be the major reason, to buy this album – and yes, you should buy rather than stream: it really is the only way musicians can keep eating – but Long Time Coming is a 40 minute slice of joy that, at least for this lockdown-weary Sydneysider, came at just the right time.
Ferrell’s album is an old-time set that ranges across country and swing, Ragtime jazz and bluegrass, with a diversion to cross-(Mexican)-border territory. You’ll hear trombone and dobro, clarinet and banjo, trumpets and fiddle, whistling and upright bass, and it always feels like fun.
In case a word like fun makes you cringe and step back, wary of parody or glib insincerity, yes there are ballads and waltzes, not just excuses to kick up your heels or sink another beer. And yes, the lyrics are not afraid to broach heartache and bad behaviour, while the production doesn’t try to mimic dusty old hotel rooms and single microphone, makeshift studios.
The fun here is in the pleasure found in the style, the performance, the commitment and the outright appeal of the songs. Songs such as At The End Of The Rainbow, which is just woozy enough to suggest a glass of bathtub gin has been had by the brass section while the clarinettist remained stubbornly abstemious, and Give It Time, where neatly dressed backing vocals look benignly on some pedal steel. Or maybe, the gazing on western skies wistfulness of In Dreams, and the brisk waltz of Bells Of Every Chapel, with the insanely talented boy wonder, Billy Strings, on hand.
The fun too is in the way that Ferrell’s voice sounds neither modern nor rustic, just supple and completely engaging.
Take the opening The Sea, which begins with a wobbly saw and turns into an unlikely two-step version of a sea shanty, where Ferrell feels so light on the melody that it comes as a bit of a shock when she bends and warbles the note and you realise she’s actually been controlling this.
Likewise, in Why’d Ya Do It she is as flexible as the Gypsy violin and as rich as the accordion, holding everything together without ever feeling as if she is imposing herself above and beyond the instrumentation. It’s character basically, backed by technique.
That’s why it’s possible to say that while this is a debut for this label, it’s not an opening gambit; Ferrell has got this pretty well sorted out and arrives set. As much can be told by the control in Made Like That, a song that could be adapted by a traditional country artist, a relaxed gospel singer or an indie folk singer, without needing to change much at all, but never feels like it’s made from or for someone else.
Actually, as much can be told by the fact that she never sounds like she’s pushing you to enjoy this record; she just knows you can, so why wouldn’t you?