Wednesday, 1 May 2019

ALBUM REVIEW: Caroline Spence - Mint Condition : Rounder Records

The succession of a widely acclaimed album is a fascinating view from afar; one mixing listener anticipation with hope that a successful formula remains intact. In the tail stream of her 2017 album SPADES & ROSES, Caroline Spence made inroads overseas, in particular the UK where there is a dedicated passionate audience embracing the style of music in which she excels. The time has now arrived for a baton passing ceremony with MINT CONDITION assuming the mantle of the latest album release and a monumental challenge of building upon the impact of its predecessor. 

The most significant alteration in the professional arrangement between albums is that Caroline signed to Rounder Records, with all the trappings of releasing a record on an established label. Thus the stage managed introduction of the new record has been markedly different to the previous one. The drip effect of five tracks strategically leaking out between early in the new year and release date only served to whet the appetite of the new music’s worth. 

It is debatable whether the absolute quality of MINT CONDITION was really in any doubt and diving deep into its entirety reaffirms the appealing lure that spills out of Caroline Spence’s music. 

Fans who listened intently to the five pre-released tracks will concur that the title song and ‘Long Haul’ possessed a special sheen, confirmed now to the extent that both reside firmly in the top 3, for those interested in such an objective approach to assessing an album. ‘Mint Condition’ may have been lying around a while in an unreleased state, but this moving piece of nostalgia sparkles in the finale spot, given a helping hand by no less an artist than Emmylou Harris to reach recorded status. The hooks of the other early standout song polishes the finished product to make repeated plays essential acts.

However, these two have to move along for the album’s crowning moment that struts into place in the guise of the adorable story song ‘Angels or Los Angeles’. Faint comparisons with Miranda Lambert's ‘House That Built Me’ may appear lazy, but they never fade after many listens and are here to stay.

Admittedly, there was a jolt when first spinning the album in its complete form with the injection of a rockier sound to what was expected in the opening track. ‘What You Don’t Know’ rinses with the effect of a new label, suggesting a new team input to strengthen up a pivotal position for any album. By the time the eleven tracks have rolled out in a forty-three minute running time, all the traits attached to SPADES & ROSES re-assemble, best exemplified in what you could term a Caroline Spence ‘stock song’ in ‘Who’s Gonna Make My Mistakes’

Those traits included a soundtrack to savour and velvet vocals that pour oodles of emotion into the song delivery process. When in union with some seriously good song writing, a ray of golden Americana runs through an album that ebbs and flows with all key attributes of an album flourishing at the junction of folk, country and contemporary roots. 

The biggest grower during the review process is the only co-write on the album, ‘Song About a City’ written in collaboration with Ashley Ray. In contrast, a patient piece titled ‘Sometimes a Woman is an Island’ simmers on first play whilst awash with wispy harmonies and a haunting close. A similar drooling feeling adorns ‘Sit Here and Love Me’ and ‘Wait on the Wine’, two mid located tracks relishing the benefit of the album really finding its groove by the time they surface. 

A similar view applies to ‘Who Are You’ and ‘Till You Find One’. They probably sit a level below the heavyweight numbers, but still fulfil a role of carrying the album through a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience. 

A legacy of SPADES & ROSES is that it did not lose any appeal many months after first play. Time will tell whether MINT CONDITION follows a similar path, but if you are of a gambling persuasion, the odds are short. UK fans will have to wait until the autumn before Caroline tours the album, so momentum is assured for at least the first few months of release. 

The move to Rounder Records appears to have proved a winner for Caroline Spence. MINT CONDITION is one of those albums that you will treasure. Fate played a part in finding this artist, but it certainly looks after those seeking a sound that matches ideals.