Cowboy Sally’s Twilight Laments For Lost Buckaroos
By: Robert H.
When an artist falling under the struggling rubric "alt.country" is good, it is usually because of a return to whiskey-glass songwriting and a rawness of presentation that escapes the Nashville production halo. Sally Timms tries another route: a combination of light irony with an innocently eager voice. The songs, for the most part, are by others, the production is glossy and the instrumentals are studio. So what's the angle? The irony drops out, I think, as irrelevant and annoying halfway through the first listen (and perhaps after the third time one reads the title), forcing Sally to work without a net: no meager task, since she now surely stands in a comparison class of Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, and other greats. What has Sally got to add? Not much.
First of all, since she is obviously not shedding blood in these songs or showing us her guts (see Lucinda), her voice had better be spectacular (see Emmylou). It is, unfortunately, merely conventionally pretty. Against the background of what sounds like conventional studio-musician arrangements, this gets pretty thin. Even as a song-showcase the album isn't really a success. The first three songs, "Dreaming Cowboy", "The Sad Milkman", and "Dark Sun” rely quite a bit on the losing cute card. The album moves on and begins to assume responsibility for itself with "In Bristol Town One Bright Day", but the result is fairly traditional and repetitive. The Johnny Cash cover "Cry Cry Cry" reminds one that only under unusual circumstances should one cover the song of a master, and "Snowbird" gets cute again by imitating the old Opry sound without doing anything new. Interestingly, the songs that succeed are mostly the ones Timms herself had a hand in writing. "Sweetheart Waltz" actually sounds fresh, sweet and heartfelt, and "Cancion Para Mi Padre" provides the album's one unequivocal keeper despite the fact that it best shows the weakness of Timms' voice. Also beating par is Jeff Tweedy's arrangement of "When the Roses Bloom Again" and the simple "Rock Me to Sleep", but the success lies with the songs and not with the presentation of them.
Sally Timms has a nice voice and might have some talent for songwriting, but the album doesn't fly. Country works best when it is painful not when it is ironic, and to be painful the blood must flow. Otherwise, why leave Nashville in the first place?