Don’t let her petite and pixieish looks fool you. Sally Spring is a bold songwriter with rock-solid vocals.
A veteran who cut her performance teeth on the coffeehouse circuit of the 1970s, Spring has played with such luminaries as the Byrds, Doc Watson, Guitar Shorty, Rev. Gary Davis, Taj Mahal and Odetta. On Made of Stars, you get the feeling you’re in the hands of a very capable musician and storyteller. These are songs for grownups, but still and all these ain’t your hippie mama’s folk tunes. No siree.
The opener, “Beautiful Ride,” finds the narrator reflecting on an enduring love while conveniently “trapped” in a Cadillac with her beloved. “Here we are in our old Eldorado / Friday night in the rain / Parked in our driveway with the windows rolled up / Oh I love when you hold me this way.” This could almost be a scene straight out of a John Irving novel — monogamy as a beautiful car ride, but without the tragedy; and the metaphors are sublime.
Rooster McGhee (our vote for best name ever) adds harmonium and Ted Lyons’ resonator guitar offer haunting accompaniment to the Irish immigrant tale on “Mattie.” Other guests, Susan Cowsill (backing vocals) and Peter Holsapple (accordion), appear on “Lake Ponchartrain” about returning to New Orleans, crossing the eponymous lake. Again, precipitation and automobile metaphors take the stage: “Through the windshield of this old car / I’ve seen the light inside dark . . . I slow danced here with the blues / I drank whiskey with the morning moon.”
Spring knows the importance of a sense of place, as in “Mentone, Alabama,” a soulful shuffle that deals with a head-clearing drive (again) back “home”, leaving the main line and opting for the more pastoral side roads. “Summer’s End” evokes a small farming town’s prayers for rain, and you can almost feel the dry Oklahoma dust on your skin.
The three cover tunes, Johnny and Ray Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone”, Willie Dixon’s “It Don’t Make Sense” (recorded live in Hoboken, NJ), and Los Lobos’ “Short Side of Nothing” are, in Spring’s talented hands, versions all her own and seem to fit seemlessly within Made of Stars.
The title track, one of eight originals on the 11-track CD, is an emotional standout, a tear-jerker brimming with honest sentiment, yet completely free of sentimentality. “When I was young I thought we were made of stars / When alone, they’d show me what we are.” The album closes with “Boys in the Cornfield”, a lament on the human tragedy of the Civil War, but could be about any soldiers who simply do what they’re told.
Made of Stars is a quiet Americana classic, thoughtful and intelligent, and it seems that Sally Spring was born for this.