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Nora Jane Struthers
Nora Jane Struthers
Review By Steven Stone
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  Nora Jane Struthers knows how to twist a murder ballad. On the opening cut on her debut album she whisks us away to the banks of the Ohio, where we experience the song from the victim‘s point of view rather than from the traditional omniscient narrator. Throughout the album Struthers displays a familiarity with American roots music which allows her into hidden spots no one else has explored.

"It's not really bluegrass, it's not really old time, it's not folk – it's all of these things," Struthers says. "In my last year of teaching, we were reading Jane Austen, Shakespeare, classic English literature…the universal themes that have been pervasive in storytelling started to develop in my writing." On the surface Struthers' songs bear some resemblance to work from Gillian Welch and Adrienne Young, but Struthers' tunes have less of an old-time vibe.

All eleven originals on the CD contain a great story. But it takes melodies to turn words or poems into music. How this ex-high-school English teacher created such affecting melody lines is a wonder. Having sidemen such as Bryan Sutton on guitar, Scott Vestal on banjo, Stuart Duncan on fiddle, and Rob Ickes on dobro certainly adds to this CD's musical appeal, but despite being surrounded by such high-power players, it's Struthers' songs that stand out.

Struthers' voice is direct and free of artifice. Instead of a vocal tour-de-force, her lead vocals point the listener back to the song's basic essence. She is, first and foremost, a songwriter. But unlike many songwriters who aren't performers, Struthers' singing is as polished as any Opry pro. On the Jimmy Rodgers inspired "Cowgirl Yodel #3" Struthers even displays a nicely controlled yodel.

I haven't yet seen Struthers perform live, but her first album certainly whets my appetite. Until then, I'll get by, happily, by listening to this super-fine CD.

 

 

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