taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

reviews of local & state music CDs

SALLY SPRING — Made of Stars

There’s no more surefire way for an artist to create division in her fanbase than by covering a song by a legend that’s already considered practically flawless. Since he wrote it in 1958, Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone” has been successfully tackled by the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Flatt & Scruggs, Gram Parsons and Dolly Parton. Now you can add Sally Spring to that list, because her version on the fifth album of her 30-year career can stand up to anyone’s. Whereas most treatments hone in on the song’s transfixing vocal elements, the California-raised, Winston-Salem-based singer/songwriter channels the number’s intense emotion through the sparseness of her rendering. Guitarist James Mastro’s languorous vibratos amble overtop a barely-there snare and ride, while Spring’s lissome voice competes with monitor hum to fill the track’s empty spaces. It’s a terrific cover for sure and while it’s as close to a centerpiece as there is on there album, but it doesn’t define it; that honor belongs to Spring’s honeyed voice itself. She wields it skillfully across the album’s 11 tracks — eight originals and three covers — at times assuming the aching nuances of kd lang and others the sweet and honest tone of Mary Chapin Carpenter. The album itself emanates self-reflection and nostalgia, but succeeds most at displaying her skill as a songwriter. She displays a close connection to the material, but she also avoids schmaltz and cliché in the process. Not that she’s ever prayed for rain with fellow villagers in a church (“Summer’s End”), but as a storytelling device, it gives her the chance to paint it with rich detail and emotion. Her other covers are safe, but effective selections where she mostly defers to her able accompaniment. She builds on Los Lobos’ “Short Side of Nothing” by ebbing the vocals in favor of more robust backbeats and guitar refrains. Ted Lyons is the masterful hand of Willie Dixon on a live-recorded version of “It Don’t Make Sense (If We Can’t Make Peace).” The album is also dotted with excellent guest work, whether instrumental or lyrical. Caitlin Cary provides doleful fiddle nuances on the fiddle war tune “Boys In the Cornfield,” while The dBs Peter Holsapple earned co-writing credits on the rich and detailed “Lake Ponchartrain.” She doesn’t do it totally by herself, but Sally Spring has authored a work that’s worthy of any of the greats of Americana. Maybe it will get her the attention she deserves.


Sally Spring & the Electric Ted Lyons Experience will play the 8 p.m. show at the Garage on Saturday.

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