The water is wide
I cannot get o’er
And neither have I
Wings to fly
Carolyn Hester’s debut isn’t self-titled, but her second album is. So is her third, just for maximum confusion, but more on that later. This album is a significant step up from her debut. The song selection is better and you can instantly tell there’s a difference in the singing. On Scarlet Ribbons, Hester was singing in a kind of clear, self-consciously beautiful tone. Here, she’s got more grit in her voice; she’s more of a folkie on this one. She does a great job with a couple of standards, the gorgeous Irish lilting ballad The Water is Wide and a warm, confident read on John Jacob Niles’ Go Way From My Window (which had its own influence on another folkie name of Bob Dylan down the road a bit). The best is Jaime, a short, beautiful little track, not even two minutes, but a really beautiful melody of a returning love. It’s a Hester original and it’s wonderful. Of the rest of the album, about the best and the worst that can be said is that it’s okay. Bland, but pleasant enough, if you’re into lightly strummed acoustic guitars and breathy vocals. Only occasionally does it get genuinely bad. Little Pig is the token “incredibly stupid folk standard” that gets performed on this one and on Virgin Mary, there’s a high note that Hester absolutely misses and it’s a real clanger. I actually winced the first time I heard it. A second take maybe? No? Okay. Been a long time since I heard a note that dodgy on an officially released album by anyone. Still, this one’s mostly just average, but a couple of really gorgeous songs elevate it a smidge. 2 ½ stars.
tl;dr – second album finds Hester with a grittier voice and a better song selection; mostly bland, but there are a couple of genuinely great tunes tucked away here. 2 ½ stars.