Bones by Heather Shayne Blakeslee is an album by a woman who knows exactly what she is doing. It is a solid debut by a powerful new voice. Blakeslee, her guitar, her story songs, and a few friends for depth of sound add up to a full experience. Her music runs the gamut of blues, country blues, and straight folk, but her lyrics and her ability to get inside the mind of her characters are what really bring this above the norm.
There is a theme of loneliness that permeates
Bones, illustrated by the liner, containing photographs that show her walking solo through a field of fallen leaves. They are notable in that they are almost completely void of Blakeslee's face.
Bones begins with "Sequoia," a song about a seventeen-year-old who is abandoned by her parents and chooses to make the best of it. It has probably the best metaphor on the album, lyrical and instantly appropriate:
I have made my body strong like a drum,
and now the harder that you beat me,
the louder I become.
Another song about abuse is the Appalachian-style tune, "The Ballad of Anna Mae." The dobro rules this song, as it should, and the producer shows restraint in knowing -- here and throughout -- when to bring the guitar to the front and when to leave it behind Blakeslee's powerful voice.
The titular theme of "bones" is dispersed throughout the album ("Opiates & Envy" contains the line "cooled my hot bones down," and in "Lazarus" -- which sounds almost classical -- the character is "tired to the bone") and this culminates in the title track, a simple album-ender, once again about loneliness ("I sit here alone with these bones.")
One standout on
Bones in particular is "No Rain." This is possibly the saddest song I've ever listened to. Luckily for me (as I was about to cry on the commuter train), she breaks the mood with "Letter to a Lover," a more uplifting piece, musically at least. Using an actual drum kit for the first time, it really raises the simple guitar piece full of questions to near-anthemic status while the lyrics remain about sad love ("What if you were America? What if I ... lived pretending patriot? Would I go on and on ... to kiss your bitter ground?"). So it's a mixed blessing, but still as powerful in its own way.
This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on
The Green Man Review. Copyright 2002. Reprinted with permission.
Heather Shayne Blakeslee: Bones
Cowboy zen with a nose ring: alt-folk, pop, and country-twinged narratives that'll make you want to cry in your whiskey.
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