Corinne West – The Promise

Album Review | Make Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 3/5

The Promise is the third album by Californian singer-songwriter Corinne West, which sets out to do what all third albums really ought to do, that is to sound more than a tad different from the others. Co-produced by Doug Cox, who also contributes a variety of guitars, including the Dobro and Weissenborn, as well as the common or garden acoustic on Fred Neil’s enduring Everybody’s Talking, the only none-original song on the album, The Promise succeeds in every respect and has done precisely that. Recorded in an idyllic British Columbia setting, the chosen studio being a converted log cabin overlooking a lake in the small town of Harrison Hot Springs, Corinne, Doug, the engineer Miles Wilkinson and a bunch of fine musicians succeeded in carving out and committing to tape, a delightfully gentle albums’ worth of gems. In a recent interview, Doug Cox explained to me what prompted Corinne’s decision to migrate from California to British Columbia to record the album. “The main idea was to just get everyone away from their day to day lives – I’ve produced a few things like that and it’s a wonderful way to make an album and Corinne loves to hike – she’s a real outdoor person – so Harrison presented itself and it was a perfect place to do it”. Some of this specifically sought out serenity comes across on the album from the start. There’s nothing rushed about the title song for instance. “The Promise”, which opens the album, feels distinctly as if it is there to gently ease the listener in, to urge us to pull up a comfortable recliner and take it easy for an hour. There’s a calmness out there on the lake and it appears to be reflected in the performances. A veritable mill pond of soft and dreamy soundscapes, particularly on “The Stranger”, with its lounge jazz foundation and again on the aforementioned “Everybody’s Talking”, which abandons all the fast finger-picking and heavy orchestrations of the Harry Nilsson version – oh yes and not forgetting Harry’s wildly irritating harmonica impressions – to bring the song back to basics. With a gentle guitar and piano arrangement, courtesy of Doug Cox and Jennifer Scott respectively, Corinne re-defines the song as a beautiful laid-back smoocher, suitable to end any night on the dance floor. The focus on The Promise is clearly Corinne’s voice, which Doug Cox was at pains to capture more intensely than on her previous two albums. “I felt that Corinne’s voice had never been represented properly on her recordings” Doug explained. “When she asked me to get involved, I just kept listening to her singing thinking my God this woman’s voice is astounding and has never really been the focus of her recordings”. With Doug’s help, that voice was given the opportunity to re-discover its potential and to investigate other possibilities in her music, which incidentally she likes to describe as ‘progressive acoustic’. In an unexpected departure, Corinne adopts an almost Celtic feel in “Pollen”, a switching tempo ballad that sounds for all intents and purposes like Dublin’s very own Eleanor McEvoy. Lily Ann on the other hand, sees Corinne return to her bluegrass roots to echo some of the more memorable moments on both Bound For Living (2004) and Second Sight (2007), with some delightful extra textural fills courtesy of Jon Reischman’s sprightly mandolin. With such an intimate and highly personal album, Corinne West maintains a firm grip on the way her career is going with yet another series of stunning vocal performances throughout the nine songs here, all perfectly rendered with the help of a selection of first rate musicians.