In her new Netflix special, The Call to Courage, Brené Brown talks about how it’s the small, ordinary moments in life that we miss the most once we no longer have them. Whether that loss applies to a pet, a parent, a partner, or someone else doesn’t much matter. What matters is that life — much like the devil — is in the details. And because art imitates life, songwriting must be found there, as well.
Turning ordinary moments into extraordinary poetry has always been singer/songwriter Caroline Spence’s bread and butter, a trend she continues on her latest effort, Mint Condition. Produced by Dan Knobler and released by Rounder Records, the captivating collection picks up the pace set by Spence’s previous albums by injecting a touch more pluck… but don’t worry, frens, it’s just a touch. (Trigger warning/spoiler alert for Spence fans expecting weepers right out of the gate: The spry first track, “What You Don’t Know,” leans on a lively drum groove and guitar drive that makes it way more suited to a head bob than a heart sob.)
Not to worry for long, though, Caroline Spence will always have your sad sack backs and brings a dose of melancholy on the second song, “Angels or Los Angeles.” It’s one of those dreamy truth-tellers that Spence does so very well and it highlights that X factor in her voice that makes you so deeply believe anything and everything she sings, even when or if it’s fully fiction.
But back to Brené Brown and the extraordinary of the ordinary… “Song About a City” makes this case very well as it finds Spence detailing how she’d love to focus on anything but those small moments that once were with someone, except she can’t: “I took two steps in Austin, one back in Boston, trying to love something new. I found lonesome highways, a brand new skyline, but nothing could change my tune. Wish I could write a song about a city, instead of songs about you.” You know a songwriter is ridiculously talented when even her “failed” attempts to not do what she’s best at are really, really great.
Like Somehow and Spades & Roses before it, Mint Condition gets better and better with subsequent listens as more of Spence’s subtle ways with words come into sharper focus. Very few songwriters can take such simple concepts and make such startling beauty of them as she does on songs like “Sit Here and Love Me,” “Who Are You,” “’Til You Find One,” and “Mint Condition,” which includes a harmony vocal cameo by Emmylou Harris.
In the end, if you happen to need a heartbreaking, but healing soundtrack for some sad times, you can’t go wrong with this (or any) Caroline Spence album.