Riddy Arman Makes Powerfully Sparse Country Music on Self-titled Debut (ALBUM REVIEW)

On her full length debut, Riddy Arman weaves together a beautiful album with little more than stark acoustic strumming, sad songs and hauntingly striking vocals. The self-titled record opens with “Spirits, Angels, Or Lies,” about her father’s death and visions of a visit from Johnny Cash on a train foreshadowing his death. It’s deeply personal, highly affecting and a pretty solid prelude to what follows.

Working with producer Bronson Tew (Jimbo Mathus, Dom Flemons, Seratones), the album is sparse giving her vocals and lyrics the opportunity to lead and helping to cement her reputation as an amazing songwriter, especially on songs like “Half A Heart Keychain” and “Too Late To Write A Love Song.” She also does a solid job covering Willie Nelson’s “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” injecting it with a deeper level of sadness. Her voice is as powerful as Cash or Margo Timmins at their loneliest. “Half A Heart Keychain,” inspired by a real incident could have easily been a run of the mill break up song, but Arman turns it into a near anthem to moving on. “The song is literal. My heart broke. I’d tell you who the song is about, but I already forgot. So, when we were in the studio, I was over it, and I got to thinking this might be a heartbreak song, but I’m sure as fuck not sad about it. Good riddance and goodbye. That’s where the production really took shape.”

A Midwesterner by birth, she’s also spent time in Virginia and most recently on a ranch in Montana, so ranchers and cowboys make cameos throughout the album, most impressively on the superb “Barbed Wire” and “Herding Song,” with the brilliant line “My boots haven’t seen horse shit in weeks/Now it’s just the city that stinks.” At times, the melancholy threatens to get a little overwhelming, like on the maudlin “Both Of My Hands,” but for the most part the album is a triumph in songwriting that recalls legends like Kristofferson and Nelson.

Photo by Mike Vanata

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