When you listen to some singers, you can't help but be amazed at how they can tell a story that makes you feel like you're experiencing what's being described. Hope Dunbar shows that ability on her new album Three Black Crows.
The album begins with "Charlottetown." This is a great introduction to Dunbar's ability as a storyteller. She tells the story of a man who comes up from Louisiana to work in the fields. He then tells the narrator that they'll run off to Charlottetown. The song has a lonesome feel that is enhanced by the pedal steel and mandolin.
Some say that good art has the ability to make people uncomfortable. Dunbar has some songs that tell such a hard story that they might make you uncomfortable. "The Shooter" is one of those songs. At the beginning of the song mention a victim who didn't know what hit him and a coffin being lowered into the ground. The lyrics aren't the only thing that makes this song powerful. As she sings these stark lyrics, she strums a muted guitar as a part of the very spare instrumentation of this song. Then you hear the ending where she muses that she's more like the shooter than the victim. It hits like a punch to the gut.
"Jeneane" is another song that might make you squirm. This is more upbeat than some of the songs, but the dark lyrics tell the story of someone who takes a baby from the hospital as a way to win his woman back. It is very well done, but you won't hear many songs that hit as hard as this one.
"I Write" is a great example of Dunbar's storytelling abilities. This is a real slice of life. She sings about writing in the morning at the breakfast table and then singing them in bars where she gets paid in beer. With the details she includes, you can feel yourself sitting next to her as she writes and sees her perform them in the bars. The melody and the vocal delivery are both similar to Tracy Chapman.
This is an album filled with vivid stories not unlike the ones you'll find on Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska. If you are a fan of the craft of songwriting, this is definitely an album you should check out. Three Black Crows was released on Oct. 6 and is available everywhere now.