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Music CD Reviews

Spotlight on: Laurie McClain
The Trumpet Vine: A Tribute to Kate Wolf and
The Child Behind My Eyes

Laurie McClain, The Trumpet Vine: A Tribute to Kate Wolf
Laurie McClain, The Child Behind My Eyes

Who would have thought that an album composed almost entirely of covers would showcase an artist's talent better than her own original work? For the good or the bad, this is the case with Laurie McClain's third studio album, The Trumpet Vine: A Tribute to Kate Wolf. McClain's voice suits these songs and her style envelops them although they are fully Wolf's. I've never heard Wolf's versions of these songs, but I can't imagine that she did them any better.

From the beginning, I could tell I was in the presence of quality. "Eyes of a Painter" uses violin and mandolin to bring texture to the story of a missed grandfather. "Across the Great Divide" is an uptempo piece and "Green Eyes" is a touching love song that McClain fills with emotion. But the most beautiful song is "We've Loved Away the Night," for which Laurie wrote music that fits Wolf's lyrics so well that it doesn't stand out from the rest. That pause after "I don't have to go" moves me every time.

The album is a calming force and I listen to it whenever I need to relax. It is one of those that you can pay attention to if you want, or just let it wash over you. The professionalism of the musicians is evident, and the production of McClain's husband (and bassist), Charlie Chadwick, doesn't overwhelm. The song on which I noticed it at all was "Cornflower Blue," and only because I loved the depth of the guitar sound. It dug its way inside me and the low notes made my heart vibrate.

The title track is The Trumpet Vine's centerpiece, with McClain's duet with Jerry Rau--her friend who first introduced her to Wolf's music--just begging to become a classic. McClain's backing band get their own times in the limelight, showing their versatility. Stuart Duncan's violin leads in the haunting "These Times We're Living In," Tim Styron's pedal steel introduces "Back Roads," and Catherine Styron Marx's piano really shows its stuff with "Unfinished Life."

Even the liner illustrations enhance the "home" feeling of the CD, with the cover a portrait of Laurie with her guitar in what could be her kitchen and the image under the disc itself a different angle of the room sans McClain but with the guitar prominently placed next to a Kate Wolf songbook. The pictures are sunny and bright and appear to illustrate the lyrics to the title song. In addition, they have the bonus effect of evoking the hope and joy of life that comes out through the music. As tribute albums go, The Trumpet Vine is close to perfection.

The Child Behind My Eyes, unfortunately, suffers in comparison. Which is not to say that it is a lesser album. Quite the contrary; it's just different. Where Wolf's songs tend toward more "plot-oriented" storytelling, McClain's combine introspection and observation, resulting in "snapshots." My only criticism--and this is purely subjective--is that some of the songs on The Child Behind My Eyes can, at times, be too "precious" for these jaded ears.

"Only Four" is a good example. Though it is a wonderful song about realizing children don't stay young, on subsequent listens it becomes rather twee. I could easily see it being sung as a lullaby--and it would be quite suitable for a themed collection--it just did not stand up over time and I soon began to skip it when listening to the album.

That is, when I was actively listening to either album, as their mellow tones can easily lead to them becoming inadvertent background music. This is not a complaint, but a plus. McClain is excellent at this "kitchen music"--something to have playing in the background while you cook, clean, or wash dishes. She has a light touch on the guitar and her voice is childlike and soft. Soothing and meditative, it allows your mind to rest and be distracted from mundane tasks, something we could all use a little more of. Laurie McClain is not only a terrific interpreter, but a fine songwriter and an engaging performer whose music would benefit any folk fan's collection.

LAURIE MCCLAIN: The Trumpet Vine, a tribute to Kate WolfLAURIE MCCLAIN: The Trumpet Vine, a tribute to Kate Wolf

"It's clear that Laurie McClain takes the meanings and nuances of Kate Wolf's words and melodies into her own soul." -RockZillaWorld.com

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LAURIE MCCLAIN: The Child Behind My EyesLAURIE MCCLAIN: The Child Behind My Eyes

Honest, mostly hopeful Americana folk, with beautiful melodies, and a lovely, expressive voice that is refreshingly unique.

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