Rebecca Pronsky – Viewfinder

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Country sounds from an urban girl, Rebecca Pronsky‘s second release was recorded in Parsonsfield, Maine and it is here where its sound lies. With the assistance of engineer Sam Kassirer, previously working with the likes of Josh Ritter and John Prine, this Nanci Griffith-reminiscent recording harks back to the work of classic country music stars, harbouring a distinctive jazz-trained vocal coupled with urgent, quick tempoed melodies.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Pronsky’s follow-up to 2007′s Departures & Arrivals paints personal stories centring on love, relationships and doubt, placed against a dusty whirlwind of passing southern country landscapes, or perhaps the ‘Highway 17 Express’ cited in Lucy Wainwright Roche’s lyrical contribution to the buoyant ‘Mercury News’. Opening with the galloping slide guitar and tambourine of ‘Hard Times’, Pronsky’s self-assured vocals form the heart of these songs, a bold and warm timbre which builds to a climactic close – and indeed it is hard to imagine these songs taking off with the same guttural passion were her vocals not at the core. While a country-twinged strain runs throughout, there are also flirtations with other stylings: the moody psychedelic twangs of the lyrically-dark ‘Day of the Dead’ complement the song’s sombre theme while, conversely, the uptempo intonations of ‘Give Up Too Easily’ don’t resonate with quite the same vocal conviction as the perhaps more maudlin of her tracks. The vocals on these more positive exhaltations often fall flat, the fuller instrumentation of Dan Shuman on upright bass and Russ Meissner’s drums muffling their sound.

This is a record clearly defined by its treatment of  mature topics – featuring a young vibrant vocal delivered by an old soul. ‘The Wheel’ harbours something of the girl-next-door vocals of Laura Viers tucked into its world-weary narrative and it is this soul-searching – both personal and yet universal – that ultimately keeps the album’s scope varied. Often these topics are tinged with a double meaning, perhaps relevant only to the singer: fleeting references to struggle and freedom, loss and gain, growth and war which all have their roots placed deeper than we may think upon a first listening.

While Pronsky’s melodies, driven by galloping guitar chords (courtesy of Rich Bennett) and foot-tapping, thumping bass and drums, retain a joyously infectious country twang at their centre, this is a record that will perhaps only gain the recognition of listeners already predisposed towards country airs. With its old-school, old-feel approach, performed with such precision and displaying such crystalline production, Viewfinder strides carefully between country, rockabilly and folk without ultimately breaking these boundaries down for the wider audience.

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