Leave the Sad Things Behind
Birdman Recording Group
For years Paula Frazer was the bewitching voice of Tarnation, a throwback country outfit that was a real anomaly on the roster of Britain's famed 4AD Records. Although Frazer employed members of Barbara Manning's SF Seals as her backing players, the bulk of Tarnation's material felt like ancient recordings rescued from some forgotten trunk in the attic.
Frazer dropped the Tarnation name after just two albums, making her solo debut in 2001 with Indoor Universe and following it with A Place Where I Know, a decade-spanning collection of four-track sketches. Though promising, neither holds a candle to Leave the Sad Things Behind, on which Frazer is again backed by stock indie rock musicians. This time, though, she drifts as far from her roots as the wind will take her, mixing horns and strings with the expected twang of pedal steel.
Despite its title, this isn't an upbeat album, and it's not as slinky and slow-burning as Tarnation usually were. The standout "No Other" feels like one of Belle and Sebastian's more '60s-indebted tunes, marked by tambourine bop and raga-ish guitar leads. Frazer's singing is thoroughly entrenched in the tradition of wistful country chanteuses like Patsy Cline, and yet it feels at home in nearly any genre.
On the penultimate "Funny Things" she even throws out some breathy harmonies before "Where Did Time Go" shivers gently along to piano and a choir of backing singers. Like so many of Frazer's songs, it's about grasping for meaning when you're among "the lost and lonely souls" who blow slowly across the world like tumbleweed.
Part of a recent spate of fantastic female-voiced indie country records-including Freakwater's Thinking of You ... and Edith Frost's It's a Game-Leave the Sad Things Behind is truly the best of both worlds. It's got all the playful experimentation of indie rock, plus the smoky soul and weary observations of country. Frazer is still an anomaly, but with any luck, more songwriters may finally start to follow suit. A- (Doug Wallen)