If you want to give yourself a good break, here’s an idea: go for a drive on a crisp winter day listening to Dale Ann Bradley’s Somewhere South of Crazy. I did that today, and it was brilliant. There’s a thematic tie in—the title song which opens the album find the narrator pining after a trip “south of crazy, ” a place more resembling the beach on her computer screen saver than the world outside her window—but it’s more than that. Having Bradley with you in the car is like
having a friend in the passenger seat. The dramas that populate her work are the ones that we experience, more or less, in our own lives.
Bradley has won the IBMA vocalist of the year award four times, and one of the reasons, I think, is because the people voting at the IBMA know that there is more to singing than timber and tone, but that it’s also about being able to deliver an idea, to deliver a song. Indeed, that’s one of Bradley’s great talents. She’ll never be accused of over-singing a song, as she knows implicitly where to stop and to the let the content speak for itself. The song “Come Home Good Boy” is a painful one that Bradley delivers with poise, grace, and the kind of honestly that sounds like a pained sigh—she less sings the song than she reluctantly exhales it.
On this album, as on her previous ones, Bradley sings of loss, and hope, economic poverty and the riches of a life well lived. In all, it’s a life that she herself has lived, literally growing up in a tar-paper shack in the hills of east Kentucky. Her father was a coal miner and a Baptist minister. She’s has seemingly inhaled the culture in which she lives, and she sends it back to us with her voice, and we’re all a little richer for it.
The material here is nicely varied, and while not all pop songs make for good bluegrass arrangements, Bradley always includes something from the rock or pop world. (Perhaps most known of these is her cunning take on U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” that she included on her very first solo recording, 1997s East Kentucky Morning.) On this latest disk she presents Seals and Croft’s “Summer Breeze”.
If there are any weak points, they are within the gospel material included on the disc. Good songs use metaphor to point to an idea. Often, it seems, good writers abandon that concept when it comes to a gospel song, and I’d say that’s true of the Paul Williams song “I Pressed Through the Crowd” that Bradley covers here. There’s no doubt that she feels her faith deeply, but a song, I’d say, has to do more than simply tell us that. In that song, she tells us that her sins are forgiven, but, frankly, we’d like to know what they are as that is were the drama of the story resides. “New Shoes” has a bit more dimension, but not much.
In any case, Somewhere South of Crazy is a great listen. It won’t challenge you, but it has the capacity to comfort you. And there’s nothing wrong with that.