If you’re a bluegrass fan, you probably know that Claire Lynch has been a bigtime IBMA winner as a singer. And if you’re a bluegrass fan in New York, you probably already know that the former Front Porch String Band frontwoman is playing Hill Country on June 27 at 10:30 PM. The downstairs space there has a powerful PA and it’s a ticketed event ($15), so you won’t have to strain to hear over the usual crowds of bellowing tourists. Her latest album with her all-star band, titled Dear Sister, finds her on the mellower side of newgrass, more or less. As usual, the picking is strong (and often spectacular), lively conversations abounding between guitarist/mandolinist Matt Wingate, Bryan McDowell (on fiddle, mando and guitar) and banjo player Mark Schatz Many of the tunes are just flat-out gorgeous, to match the vocals. Lynch’s voice is sort of a blend of vintage Dolly Parton and Amy Allison, with a similar nuance and unexpected power when she wants to drive a lyric home.
The opening track, How Many Moons is a pop song in disguise: then the backbeat and the dobro and the fiddle kick in and it’s a country song. “No one’s ever said that I had the patience of a saint,” Lynch admits. Doin’ Time, a duet with Tim O’Brien, is deliciously anthemic, like a vintage Tom Petty song reinvented as bluegrass. Once the Teardrops Start to Fall sets a torchy vocal over a growly, bluesy bassline, a vibe that Lynch keeps going strong in Need Someone, which is an unabashedly straight-up pop song The album’s centerpiece, a co-write with Louisa Bascomb, is based on letters sent home from the battlefield by Bascomb’s Civil War ancestors. Dripping with authenticity, there’s an ever-present, bittersweet longing for home; and a crushing subtext that does not bode well for the soldiers.
A brisk remake of the Osborne Brothers’ I’ll be Alright Tomorrow, with a cameo from Alison Brown on banjo, plays up the angle that the singer might like drinking away her baby more than him actually coming home. Other choice tracks include the slow dobro-fueled ballad Everybody Knows I’ve Been Cryin’ and the closing diptych, Buttermilk Road/The Arbours, winding up the album on a high note, a rustic fiddle-and-percussion dance hitched to an oldschool bluegrass romp.