St. Paul’s Red House Records seldom misses the mark in bringing quality acoustic music. Among the label’s hallmark artists are co-founder Greg Brown, premier bluesman Guy Davis, and iconic siren Lucy Kaplansky, not to mention amazing trio the Wailin’ Jennys (it was some coup signing them). Red House fell down on the job, though, issuing Jorma Kaukonen’s weak label debut Stars In My Crown, and have done it again in releasing Carrie Elkin‘s Call It My Garden, a pedestrian offering of reasonably listenable country-western fare.
Call It My Garden, pretentious and ineffectual from first cut to last, lacks dimension and depth. The songs won’t send you screaming from the room. On the other hand, they will not hold you transfixed, either. You can sit through them, carry on a conversation without missing a beat, then go ahead on and put something else on the stereo.
“Jesse Likes Birds,” for instance, is a lightweight approximation of what a country ballad is supposed about. It’s got a rolling rhythm and bright backup, complete with rollicking banjo. The writing, however, doesn’t go anywhere adventurous and the singing, though all the right notes go in the right places, falls flat. There’s no real feeling. No passion. Just a lot of, well, putting the right notes in the right places and occasionally trying to sound excited. On top of which, there are no liner-note credits acknowledging the lines Carrie Elkin lifted from the 50’s R&B hit “Mockingbird” for this particular cut. Maybe the copyright ran out.
“Guilty Hands” plods, a lumbering attempt at good old time bluegrass gospel sung with all the heartfelt conviction of someone drying her fingernails. “Lift Up the Anchor” is a whining dirge. None of Elkin’s lyrics are particularly remarkable.
The production values for Call It My Garden are state-of-the-art, with crystal-clear engineering by Mark Addison. The packaging is handsome. Glossy and top-flight, market ready. The music just doesn’t have a great deal going for it. Even Red House Records ain’t perfect. You’re going to get a clunker once in a while, but the label still boasts a pretty damned good track record.