Veteran storyteller sets life’s lessons to music in her sophomore release.
‘Landmarks’, Helene Cronin’s latest album, is music for the dance of life. It also finds the words to face down life’s challenges with grace and wit. Cronin begins the lessons right out of the box with ‘Yesterdays Heavy.’ “Why you gotta hold on to the past, Don’t you get tired of the weight of all that, All the done-wrongs and might-a-beens you carry around”, she sings. It is a challenge to listeners to let go of the burdens weighing them down, to unchain themselves from the regrets, the ‘if I’da’s and ‘if only’s we all have in our metaphorical baggage.
Cronin has been performing and writing for years, but this is only her second full-length album following-on from her debut ‘Old Ghosts and Lost Causes’. Living in Texas, she regularly travels to Nashville, using the experience as inspiration for a great road song ‘Halfway Back to Nashville’. She keeps the album on the road with ‘Between Me and the Road’ which has a wonderful image of driving cross-country: “Floorboards, loose change,/ Torn seats, coffee stains,/ Two skunks and a dead armadillo.” You can almost smell the coffee mixed with skunk musk.
Cronin also used to be involved in the contemporary Christian music market and religious influences run through her new album. A number of songs, including ‘Landmarks’. ‘Cross That River’ and ‘What Do You Lean On’ have religious images. She asks: “A shoulder, a cross or a crutch,/ What do you turn to when the burden’s too much?” But she isn’t an evangelist. She challenges the divine in “Make The Devil”. In ‘This Cross’ Cronin uses the crucifixion as a metaphor for the sacrifice made in a corrosive relationship. These songs, while not hymns, reflect the deep impact of religion on the culture. The images resonate, a reminder of the religious inspiration of so much great music.
And this is great music. They can sometimes be challenging, as in songs like ‘Just A Woman’, a powerful statement of being. Sometimes about tenderness, as in ‘Bodies of Water’, Sometimes, a celebration of being loved, as in ‘You Do’ when Cronin sings “You hold me even when I’m hard to reach, When I fall apart you keep your faith in me”. And around, under and over it all is the sound. Cronin has a true Americana voice, the drawl of Texas and twang of Nashville. She hits the rights notes, emotionally and musically. You know she’s been there and back and lived to sing the songs.
The producer, Matt King, along with Kenny Vaughan (electric guitars), Byron House (bass), Bobby Terry (acoustic guitars, banjo, steel, mandolin), and drummers Jerry Roe, Paul Eckberg and Chris Powell have built soundscapes to match the depth of Cronin’s emotion and the breadth of her stories.
This is an exceptional sophomore effort, but its excellence isn’t surprising given Cronin’s experience. It is as if she waited until she had learned enough of life’s lessons before writing songs to share them. It was worth the wait.