On Sweetwater, it's all about the singing. The voices of Lynn Blakey, Caitlin Cary, and Tonya Lamm meld beautifully, forming a rich whole that never loses the essence of each individual singer. Whether they're having fun (as they obviously are on Loretta Lynn's "Deep as Your Pocket") or singing of a broken heart (pretty much everything on the album), their voices collide and bring the music to life. Each woman's voice possesses a different character, and their respective imperfections complement each other perfectly.
The fact that the harmonies are built upon creative, poetic, and occasionally clever words makes Sweetwater even better. The descriptions of loneliness and aging that fill the album are often touching and insightful ("You bring the bar home in the smell of your hair / It wilts the flowers that girlhood put there"), and the wordplay in "Desire" is a highlight in the already bright landscape.
The instrumentation and arrangements are solid, but there's nothing particularly notable about them. The pacing and tempos become somewhat repetitive by the end of the album, and the songs written by Blakey, Cary, and Lamm are all very similar. Thankfully, the voices of the three women (and the production skills of Chris Stamey) breathe life into what would be a lackluster recording in the hands of many alt-country artists.
Like the music, the package isn't particularly special, but the whole thing is solid and the strong points stand out. The cover image, apparently a mid-'60s photo of the Gospel Light Ladies Trio, sets the tone for the album in an accurate and lighthearted way. The notes on the back of the cover give a great introduction to the band and the music; the act of including a short commentary about the music has been mostly lost for the past few decades, and it's refreshing to see a group -- particularly one that is largely unknown -- include this descriptive blurb.
Listen if you like: Neko Case, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Wilco, Tanya Donelly's more recent albums
If it were food, it'd be: a mild but tasty chili