“I can’t grieve anymore, I’ve seen so many sail away from my shore, never to come through the door again.” The opening lines of the piano backed title track from the Austin-based singer-songwriter Christine Albert’s sixth solo album Everything’s Beautiful Now which bear witness to the deaths of more than a dozen close friends and family members in recent years.
Written in the voice of her mother-in-law, Darleen Gage, with whom Albert had many conversations in her dying days, the title comes from what she told her in the final hours. As such, while it and many of the other numbers, may concern loss, they mix grief with a knowledge that time will heal, notably so on the Wurlitzer-backed old school country waltz At Times Like These, originally written for her sister after losing both her husband and grandson.
Although Albert doesn’t ascribe to any particular religion, there’s a definite spirituality and faith evident in the album, the need to believe in something beyond finding expression in two songs by little known veteran South Dakota writer Tom Peterson (whose work Albert and husband Chris Cage showcased on their Dakota Lullaby album): On That Beautiful Day, a Patsy Cline styled jazzy-blues waltzer featuring Lloyd Maines on dobro which looks forward to when “there’ll be no sorrow, sickness or pain, lovers and friends together again”, and the simple acoustic guitar hymnal My Heart’s Prayer with its meet on the other side sentiment.
Another cover, a fine version of Warren Zevon’s Keep Me In Your Heart, addresses loss and remembrance and comes with personal resonance in that a friend posted the lyrics on Facebook in condolence following the death of Albert’s father. Given the inclusion of a Zevon song, it’s no surprise to find another influence here too in a heartfelt reading of Jackson Browne’s For A Dancer, another song about loss, memory and transformation.
Elsewhere she sings about needing to finding your own path, as on the jaunty, pedal steel streaked Little One which, written for her son, Troupe Gammage (who provides vocals on several tracks) advises “Stand up, walk on, take a step into the great unknown…make this world your own.”
However, she’s well aware that, as with grief, you do have to make a determined decision to let go in order to move on. On the swaying lilt of Someday Isle, she sings “Someday I’ll cross over, someday I’ll be free to leave the fear that holds me here. I’ll sail away to a place without these walls I’ve built keeping me in exile” while on Old New Mexico, a autobiographical mid-tempo Texicali-flavoured number co-penned with Jerry Jeff Walker who provides harmony vocals alongside fellow guest Eliza Gilkyson, she recounts how “I left the circle of my friends to make it on my own. Like a snake that sheds its skin, on the road I was reborn. Well something’s lost but something’s gained in every step you go.”
But, she also recognizes the need to provide a supportive shoulder if the road ahead should prove hard to travel alone or the pain too much to handle, a hand extended in the lovely Lean My Way, a gently tumbling, mandolin-accompanied duet with Gammage, by Texas songwriters Shake Russell and Dana Cooper.
Given the number of funerals that went into the creation of the album, you might have expected to come away feeling torn and desolate, but instead there’s a sense of peace, acceptance and hope that, greatly helped by Albert’s warm honey vocals, leaves you calm and ready to face whatever tomorrow brings.
Review by: Mike Davies