Patty Griffin, Servant of Love. She sounds like she’s searching for something—at times, for a song, though even the meandering numbers have their charms, not least the sunshine harmonies and gentle twang of “Rider of Days.” At other times, it’s an original Americana that’s born of tradition but made in her image, as on the stomping, trumpet-led blues “Gunpowder.” But mostly, it’s answers: The ruins of a relationship are strewn across this covert breakup record (song titles: “Good and Gone,” “Hurt a Little While,” “Everything’s Changed,” “You Never Asked Me”). “Servant of Love” drones its way into a trance of almost religious fervor, which underscores both the heaviness of this record and the fact that it’s not just about Robert Plant. “Hurt a Little While” isn’t her first gospel number, but it is the surest evidence yet that time and heartache have made her a deeper, more soulful singer. And “Snake Charmer” proves that the mischief and sass of “Getting Ready” was no fluke, not least because this end-of-the-album throwaway sounds like something Robert Plant might record.
Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, So Familiar. Take the title in a couple of ways: Yes, this is pretty similar to their first album, using its zippy, earthbound folk as a foundation and building on it ever so slightly with the addition of some strings here, a bari sax there, a toy piano when they really want to get sentimental. But there’s also a greater familiarity between the two performers, an ease and a comfort that make this one feel more effortless and lived-in even as it very gradually ups the ante. What’s more, they’ve carved out a sound that’s really theirs now—romantic, lilting, wistful, coloring its playfulness in subtle shades of blue. Right now it feels like they could just keep making albums like this forever; right now it feels like I’d never get sick of it.
Richard Hawley, Hollow Meadows. Hawley probably isn’t the first to write a song lamenting our culture’s cellphone obsession, but he may be the only one to pull it off without sounding like a crank; though Hawley’s albums all sound like transmissions from a half-mythic, half-remembered past, he’s wistful and romantic, not curmudgeonly. Probably no big surprise, then, that he responded to the surprise popular success of Standing at the Sky’s Edge with a new collection of low-key, intimate folk songs—patiently unfolding, craftmanlike, not particularly trendy. He’s combined the burnished late nigh vibes of Cole’s Corner with the cinematic scope of Lady’s Bridge, peppering it with some of Truelove’s Gutter’s dark sound effects and Standing’s guitar thrills. Its vision makes it feel like a masterwork, even as its familiarity makes it less bracing than the typical Hawley LP. Of course, Hawley is the master of the slow burn; maybe two months isn’t enough time for me to fully absorb all this. Though, I was smitten with “Which Way” from the get-go. And “I Still Want You” captures the kind of long-term intimacy and weathered desire that nobody writes better than Hawley.