For her fifth release Boston singer songwriter Susan Cattaneo has pushed the boat out with a double album comprising 18 tracks. With the two discs independently titled The Hammer / The Heart it will come as no surprise that each disc has a distinctive feel to it. With the majority of tracks being either self-penned or co-writes and, with production credits for the whole album bar one track, Cattaneo clearly lacks neither talent nor a work ethic.
Both discs kick off with the same track Work Hard Love Harder and the different approach to each version acts as an indicative hint of what is to come. The Hammer is full band, electric, vibrant and up-tempo in the main. It includes the rockabilly swing of her ode to vinyl In the Grooves and the scathing lyric of Does My Ring Burn Your Finger, a Buddy and Julie Miller composition that Lee Ann Womack included on her brilliant 2000 album I Hope You Dance. Susan includes elements of rock, folk and blues in her music all wrapped up in a country overcoat and it is those influences that dominate this half of the album.
If the regard with which an artist is held amongst their peers can be judged by the number of collaborations on a record then The Hammer gives us Bill Kirchen co-writing on the aforementioned In the Grooves and takes that one step further by duetting on When Love Goes Right. Dennis Brennan joins Susan on Dry, a slow and soulful number that highlights the mournful lap steel guitar of Kevin Barry.
As well as being a prolific songwriter and independent performer Cattaneo also pursues a parallel project with established folk trio The Boxcar Lilies and her colleagues join Susan on the acoustic version of Work Hard Love Harder that opens disc 2. The Heart brings a softer, more acoustically driven feel to proceedings and the quality of those collaborations are showcased again here by two lovely ballads. Carried is a co-write with Jenee Halstead who features on background vocals on a beautiful sounding track with outstanding accompaniment from Tom West on piano and organ and the guitars of Tony Savarino. Fade to Blue features Nancy Beaudette harmonising to great effect on her own co-write, the two voices working beautifully together on a lament to a love lost.
Susan Cattaneo is described as New England Americana with a twang. There is certainly an overriding country influence that runs through much of her work and while many of these tracks are from her own pen a number have that mainstream Nashville songbook sound about them. As a result, your opinions on the merits of this double album may be influenced by your love, or otherwise, of that genre.