Earlier today, while attempting to open Utah Green‘s latest album, ForTune, I accidentally clicked on Alicia Keys’ “Fallin’.” The two artists couldn’t be farther apart — Keys is all power vocals, thick groove and slick production. She’s the Bing Crosby to Green’s Woody Guthrie.
While Green’s album is neither about travel nor politics — at least not overtly — her songs are that paired down, bare-basics folk that recalls field recordings and field worker, dust bowl refugees, train hoppers and, now and then, all of those influences as if filtered through, say, Jolie Holland.
Green’s voice is sturdy and clear. Her singing style recalls Sam Parton of The Be Good Tanyas with a sleepy edge, especially at the low end of her register. But there’s something pleasant about the way it’s just her voice (well, and an acoustic guitar, strummed for the rhythm more than the melody) that carries each song.
Some tracks on ForTune are more successful than others — “Sohum,” which asks question after question like a curious two year-old, “How many people have just got married an how many lovers have just been burried and how many babies have just been born and how many dreams have just been torn and how many people have just started all over again and how many bridges continue to bend…” It goes on and on to the near-maddening two-chord thrum of the guitar.
“Baltic,” on the other hand, breaks the monotony with some higher-register vocals and finger-style guitar. The lyric is more narrative, “Wontcha sing to me a song, a song that whispers like a freight train,” and suggests that Green is a storyteller with a proclivity for interesting imagery.
At under two minutes, “Meigah” might be the album’s most interesting track. It follows a similar repetitive folk / rhythmic strumming formula that Green favors, but the all-too-brief anecdote is of a New Orleans character who “went rollin’ down the road.” Nothing really happens, but there’s a kind of building anticipation that leads to a really spooky one-note horn solo.
“Seven Times Is Too Much” verges on ballad territory, allowing Green to expand her vocals and “Magdaline,” the final track, is the only song without acoustic guitar. Simple, metallic clawhammer banjo provides rustic accompaniment to Green’s most stripped down folk song, a piece that recalls Iris Dement and would be at home on the movie Songcatcher.
Overall, ForTune is a sweet album the deserves close listening. It’s modern folk — the songs are contemporary and are based on Green’s very current world view — but performed the same way songs would have been ages before MP3 and album art.
Utah Green performs at Good Stuff Grocery in Marshall on Saturday, Sept. 4, at Ja Vin in Black Mountain on Saturday, Sept. 11 and at Fred’s Parkside Pub on Saturday, Sept. 18.