Fragile State

Gretchen's Wheel

Independent release, 2015

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


It would be easy in the early going of Gretchen’s Wheel’s debut Fragile State to find the album title entirely too on the nose, for indeed singer-songwriter Lindsay Murray’s voice has a kind of breathy delicacy that invites comparisons to the likes of Emmylou Harris.

But there’s more; as she powers into the chorus of the enchanting album opener “Second To Last,” you catch a warm, husky Christine McVie edge that adds character. The song itself is a wise, well-rendered character sketch of a woman who’s in the process of setting aside unrealistic dreams and waking up to a harder, but truer, reality.

my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Fragile State was recorded in Brooklyn, Nashville and Paris, an exotic combination you can hear in the lush, cosmopolitan feeling of the almost genre-less music. The album is essentially a collaboration between the talented Murray and producer/multi-instrumentalist Ken Stringfellow (The Posies, Big Star, R.E.M.), with Ira Elliot of Nada Surf playing drums on seven of the 11 tracks. The results, as you might expect, and rich and full and sophisticated.

The next pair of tracks emphasize the dreamier qualities of Murray’s introspective, insightful songs, with “One More Mile” taking on a genuinely haunted quality. Both “Mile” and the warmer, brighter “My Lullaby” offer concise, appealing guitar solos as well, with Murray and Stringfellow trading off on lead and rhythm electric and acoustic guitars. The songs rarely escape a lingering cloud of melancholy, though, as “Lullaby” again narrates a woman coming to grips with disappointment.

Gretchen’s Wheel feels like the right stage name for this act, a band name out of a Faulkner novel, full of repressed characters either overcoming or falling victim to their own demons. The dreamy, haunted quality of Murray’s songs persists whether it’s a big, expansive number like “The Fourth Wall,” a slower, more piano-focused tune like “Let Me Believe,” or a more upbeat, guitar-focused song like “Why Try.”

That ethereal atmosphere is accentuated by the subtly effective electric guitar work found throughout this album, which has sort of a Daniel Lanois feel, mostly liquid and looming, but occasionally bolder and throatier (as on “No Difference”), and very occasionally, as on closer “Total Loss,” achieving a kind of stateliness. That said, the latter song is the one off note on the album, a naturally dramatic tune whose expansive arrangement eventually carries it off into the nether reaches of melodrama; chalk it up to lessons learned.

Overall, Fragile State is a rich, appealing showcase for Lindsay Murray’s haunting songs and beguiling voice. I’m looking forward to hearing more.

Rating: B+

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