Carrie Elkin – The Penny Collector

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

Written in a year that was bookended by the birth of Elkin’s first child and the process of caretaking her father through his final months, The Penny Collector is a diary, a poet’s song cycle through all the emotions that these journeys entail. Lyrically and musically Carrie Elkin manages to be fragile and fierce, raucous and tender raw. Often at the same time. This is first and foremost a singer’s album and what a voice, as it whispers and croons then roars open mouthed when the moment is right. Gathered around Elkin are a collection of fine musicians who know when to quietly stroke the strings and when to roar. Just as impressive as Carrie’s vocal is the ragged roar of the music, it swerves those warm country sounds and gentle singer songwriter vibes. Preferring a mix of tender and tumultuous that is often Neil Young like, with its almost contrary contrasts, but savage or sweet it is always beautiful and compelling. New Mexico opens the album in a way that is both visually and sonically cinematic, with guitar atmospherics and some ponderous piano chords, till Carrie’s vocal, potent and as chrystaline as Nancy Griffith at her best, draws a picture, vivid as a Georgia O’Keefe. The lyric crackles with emotion and a sense of space. This is a landscape Elkin is part of, this is she tells us, her New Mexico. It’s where she was born into the world, it’s where her father, to whom the record is dedicated, recently died. She feels the power of the landscape run through her in this invocation, like an opening spell. Guitars scream and squeal constantly evoking the scale and power of the landscape that Elkin’s gripping vocal conjures up in front of us. “Always On The Run” is an emotional examination of the complex lives of the people that live in the landscape Elkin describes. In a wonderful duet with some dirty guitar and a great second vocal that recalls Bruce Springsteen at his Nebraska raw throated gritty best. “Albatross” summons a retro vibe from its valve amp electric guitar sound, the sultry vocal and the washes of organ, part Sun recording part Gillian Welch. The second vocal and the languid drum beat stretches time as we sit in the heat before a gathering storm, wailing guitar notes suggest distant rumbles of thunder or static on the radio. Again Carrie Elkin conjures wonderful vivid pictures, atmospheric black and white Walker Evans or Dorothea Lange images flicker before our eyes. After the dark atmosphere of “Albatross”, “And The Birds Came” lifts the mood slightly with its shuffling dance rythmn that suggests a starkly lit singer on a barn stage before dancing figures. Beneath the slow dance beat, the lyrics are a dark heartfelt lament for the passing of her father, with Carrie’s vocal perfect but dripping with raw emotion. “Crying Out” is an achingly beautiful examination of loss and the filling of empty moments built round layered vocals and a wonderfully emotional cello part. “Tilt A Whirl” recalls the sense of space on Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball. You can hear that space in Carrie’s vocal, which is intimate and beautifully phrased. Huge guitar notes that decay into noise hang in the air with a ragged beauty. This song is a wonderful roller coaster, the final verse with its sparse piano coming between the choruses is just glorious. Listen over headphones or on big speakers and Elkin’s verse vocal at the end is right in your ear, over guitar ambience she wrings emotion and nuance out of every word in a way that is just glorious. “My Brother Said” is an excuse for some extreme noise guitar that squeals and squalls against the country stripped back beauty of Carrie’s vocal. A strong cover of Paul Simon’s “American Tune” draws a line under the dark reflection of the album. Simon’s anthemic words offer truisms and solace, connecting together the anguish and pain that we share. Elkin’s vocal and delivery of the lyric is pure and commanding. “Lamp of The Body” with an interesting counterpoint between the song lyric and lyrics from the gospel tune “This Little Of Mine” is a short and sweet uplifting blast to end the album. After some dark introspection and reflection we are left raised up and carried. This is simply a glorious album that is going to be on all of those best of year lists, beat the rush get yours now.