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“Duane Allman” deals with a different kind of loss as our heroine tries to let go of her musical hero (“We learn to dig deep / Wipe our hands / And walk away from the grave”).Appropriately, “Duane Allman” comes closer to country-rock than anything else in this set; you’d have to be the citiest of city slickers to keep from nodding your head to this one, first to the beat, then to the sentiment.She feels his plight and conveys his pain, and the result is instantly compelling.She’s not entirely without judgment, but neither is the hunter, and what he ultimately prays for – “Give me a love that don’t fade / Oh, let me walk in decency” – is something we all crave and, Ray implies, deserve.There are no ornaments on these songs, no frills, and none are needed.Still, sometimes it feels like Ray is working hard, maybe too hard, to convince us she’s the real deal.She seems to kick off every song with some dusty artifact of country livin', from a deer in the crosshairs (“Hunter’s Prayer”) to rain in a river bed (“Oyster and Pearl”) to the Montana sky in the dead of winter (“Broken Record”) to “whiskey swamps and vagabond clans” (“Duane Allman”).
She’s got a natural Georgia drawl, of course, but even that is kept relatively in check.
Two additional songs are standouts for very different reasons.
“Goodnight Tender” is, at first, clunky and heavy-handed as it attempts to combine a Willie Nelson-style character study with the singalong lullaby of a Roy Rogers waltz.
Rock ‘n’ roll arrives with a time-stamp; listen to any rocker recorded after 1954 and you can probably name that decade, if not the exact year.
But country – real country, not pop music gussied up with a steel guitar and a nasal twang – is timeless, and that’s rather the point.