july 2008

Becky Schlegel
IGO Records

A timeless ache and a mesmerizing vulnerability are abundant in the crystalline, shimmering Alison Krauss-like tones of Becky Schlegel’s yearning soprano voice, a natural wonder if ever there was one. A favorite of A Prairie Home Companion and RFD-TV's Midwest Country Theater, the South Dakota native has delivered a subdued, thoughtful gem of a third album, all dozen of its songs being Schlegel originals, situated in a down-home soundscape shaped by banjo, mandolin, steel guitar, dobro, piano, acoustic bass, acoustic and electric guitars and unobtrusive drums.

It’s generally a bad idea for songwriters to write about being unable to write, but the absence of inspiration rarely has been rendered as poetically or as poignantly as Schlegel does in the somber musings of “Lonely,” her reflections, muted but anguished, accompanied only by a stark, fingerpicked acoustic guitar, the whole endeavor so darn heartbreaking you can’t help but feel the song as a corporeal presence in the artist’s life. A six-time Minnesota Music Academy winner in the bluegrass category, she twice asserts herself memorably in that vein here, first with a brisk but melancholy heartbreaker, “Best Time of Day,” a song replete with soaring, winsome harmonizing by Schlegel and banjoist Brain Fesler, supported by inspired, emotionally resonant solos courtesy mandolinist Jeff Midkiff and dobro man Randy Kohrs; and later in the proceedings with “99%,” a driving little kissoff ditty, featuring rousing solo turns by Fesler and Midkiff, in which an assertive, even sardonic Schlegel suggests that her artistic aspirations came between her and a paramour, although her possibly ironic chorus finds her soaring into a fragile upper register and proclaiming, “Here I stand guitar in hand/There’s no doubt I’m a lucky man.” A straight-ahead, foot stomping country-bluegrass blend is the order of the day to appease Schlegel’s abiding desire as expressed boldly in “I Need Your Love,” and the artist is at her expressive best at the close, in signing off with a tender, bittersweet account of a long-ago summer love set to a muted, folk-flavored arrangement in “Hills of South Dakota,” rendered with a delicacy that underscores the depth of the heart’s longing for a person, and a place, now consigned to memory. A seamless fusion of traditional music styles, exemplary musicianship, intensely personal songwriting and inspired vocalizing, For All the World to See is a velvet hammer of an album—it knocks you out, and it hurts so good.—David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024