September 1999

Tanya Savory - Town to Town
Philo 11671-1182-2
Released: 1999

by David J. Cantor

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on CD]Tanya Savory is a very talented songwriter; she packs a lot of enjoyment into her CD Town to Town. After an original and solidly executed dobro introduction by Wanda Vick, the brisk opener, "When the River Rose," begins, "Had a stretch of land in southern Indiana/I could raise a crop out of anything that grows/I used to brag about the money that it brought me/well it sure didn’t count for much when the river rose." The same last line occurs in every verse and the refrain, making palpable the river’s unstoppable assault on everything that holds life together.

That succinct, image-filled verse introduces motifs that reappear throughout. We hear about losses of home, community, and the love they entail, as experienced by people of Tennessee, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Michigan, not the East or West Coast power centers that siphoned off the money from family-farm communities and replaced them with huge absentee-owned agribusiness corporations. Long distances intervene, traversed by trains and semis, and with the distances, opportunities for strangers to step in and destroy old relationships among people.

The focus on these rich interconnected themes is both a strength and a weakness of Town to Town. They occupy important places in people’s hearts and minds. Performed with vigor and a measure of detachment, as in "When the River Rose" and "40, 80, or 10" -- "Darlin’ I won’t deny the trouble with the distance/well it’ll break down your resistance, and let a stranger in/and if you do and you say we’re through, I wont ride those roads again/but if it leaves you cryin’ you’ll find me flyin’ out 40, 80 or 10" -- they can convey fortitude and awe in the face of powerful forces.

Slowed down and sung liltingly, as in "Big Town" -- "It was a big town, became a small town/and now my home town is no town at all" -- and "Reuben Brown," however -- "He wears farming clothes for every season/but he hasn’t owned a farm since 1969/he doesn’t even own that house he lives in/but when he speaks of its history a light comes to his eyes" -- they wallow in thin sentimentality.

A favorite of mine is "Reason Enough," a peppy love ballad that pushes into bluegrass just for the one track, with fine banjo picking by Kristin Scott and mandolin and fiddle by Wanda Vick, whose talent for balancing virtuosity with restraint contributes so much loveliness to the album. "Look at how the golden leaves/drop down from the oak trees/that’s the reason they call the season fall/Look at how the geese have flown/miles from their summer home/that’s the reason for their mournful call/And look at you all alone/pace the floor looking for/reasons of your own."

Each song on Town to Town is performed with dedication that usually gets the most out of each line and avoids undue ponderousness. Savory plainly enjoys communicating with words; the CD is filled with them, only admitting enough instrumental time for brief, tasteful introductions, breaks, and codas, no filler. She uses internal rhyme frequently and has a knack for subtle phrasing. Occasionally, she pulls a Joni Mitchell-esque long-drawn-out syllable that draws too much attention to itself -- a conscious or unconscious crutch of many singer-songwriters -- perhaps most conspicuous on this album when the fairly unimportant word "or" gets, by my count, one-and-a-half beats of a four-beat measure in "40, 80 o-o-o-o-o-r 10."

Really good CD if you like country songs rich in detail but not in slicked-up Nashville production, straightforward singing, folk guitar that you can actually hear being strummed and picked on many occasions, and honest arrangements with no extraneous instruments thrown in. Savory has won some songwriting awards in recent years. Town to Town is the music of someone we should expect to hear for years to come.