Americana is a crowded field these days, as much or more so when it comes to those purveying tales of wonderment or woe while attempting to emulate the calico tones of, say, an Emmylou Harris or a Rodney Crowell. There are, after all, only so many sentiments the average individual can muster, especially when it comes to matters of the head and the heart. We’re either satisfied or we’re not, happy or despondent, content with the status quo or prone to rail against an unfaithful lover. Rarely however do we find ourselves anywhere in-between. And if that were the case, then it would discount the viability of making a career pining away about our human frailties.
Fortunately, while Beth Bombara may not have a monopoly on erstwhile expression, she does have the particular birthright that can help ensure her standing in Americana circles. She dwells in the midst of the nation’s heartland, that vast expanse of middle America occupied by the state of Missouri. Granted, St. Louis isn’t exactly thought of as a vital enclave of roots rock, alt country crossover or anything for that matter that’s intrinsically tied to a particular trend or attempt at trendiness. Sorry, Branson simply doesn’t count. However, it is worth remembering that several feisty artists and outfits have been birthed within sight of the St. Louis Arch, Uncle Tupelo, Albert King and the Bottle Rockets among them.
Beth Bombara is a subdued soul compared to those native sons, but her music is no less penetrating or insightful. In fact, it’s a credit to her capabilities that even thought she treads much of the same terrain as numerous other down home denizens, she still manages to convey a personal perspective that’s easily engaging and wholly bereft of pretense. Her latest release — Bombara’s third effort to date — is seemingly so personal it simply borrows her name for its title. Yet it also bears songs of a transitory nature, a metaphor for an unsettled view of love and romance. “Honey give me the road, it’s gonna set us free,” she coos in the opening track, “Found Your Way.” The next song, “Give Me Something,” begins by imagining the main character’s “five thousand miles and gone.” Then there’s this from the tellingly titled “It Slips Away”: “I’ve got one foot in the water and one foot on dry land/The ship’s already sailing and I’ve got no place to stand.” Even as the album winds to a conclusion, there’s still no hint of stability in any situation. “Said I gotta go, back home to Ohio,” she purrs on the equally descriptive “Heavy Heart.” “Ten hours on the road/Thoughts spin out of control.”
Happily, Bombara convey these tales of aching and longing through arrangements that convey a sense of comfort and assurance. Fiddle, pedal steel, banjo and mandolin play crucial roles in the musical mix, and even when there’s some slight deviation, as in the brass arrangement that accompanies the easy sway of “In the Water,” the music maintains that homespun circumstance. It’s a soothing sound, one that’s genteel, and it assures the most revealing aspect of the album overall. For all its quiet contemplation and desperate desire, it’s a gentle caress that Bombara expresses the best.