Veteran Claire Lynch, her producer Alison Brown, and the illustrious team of collaborators they’ve gathered here have really hit the high watermark on this fantastic ten-song collection. As a singer, Lynch, a three-time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year, has never sounded so compelling, so dazzling, and so finely nuanced, whether she’s exploring the bright hues of hopefulness, resolve and contentment or the darker shades of frailty, restlessness and despair.
North By South is, in a sense, a conceptual album. Lynch wrote one of these songs (the quirky love ballad “Milo”), but hand-picked the rest from Canadian writers, none of whom, save for Gordon Lightfoot and Bruce Coburn, are household names here in the States. Her 2014 marriage to a Canadian man inspired her to explore, in her own words, “a community of songwriters that hadn’t been on my radar.” And what an exquisite bunch of north-of-the-border songs these are. For instance, there’s “Cold Hearted Wind,” the haunting opening track penned by Ron Sexsmith. No less moving are the tragic seafaring ballad “Molly May,” written by J.P. and Gervais Cormier, the lilting “Andrew’s Waltz” (Willie P. Bennett), and Lynn Miles’ mournful “Black Flowers.”
Lynch and her stalwart three-piece band are backed on various tracks by an array of illustrious instrumental guests including Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Bela Fleck, David Grier, Mark Schatz, and Kenny Malone. They take some soaring, adventurous instrumental rides on free-wheeling tracks like “Milo” and David Francey’s “Empty Train.” (Compass Records, 916 19th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212, www.compassrecords.com.)BA