Various Porch Songs

These eight tracks are performed by semi-professional Oregon women and have the homey sound and feel of back porch music. Those who rail against the evils of overproduction will love this disc, an antidote to the wretched excesses of AM pop. Four women perform here - Virginia Cohen, Rachel Browning (fronting a group called Dryer), Helen Haberman and Andy Fish, who put together this project. Musically, it ranges from OK to astonishingly good. Tracks like Andy Fish's "Pearl," Virginia Cohen's "Pale Blue Morning," and Helen Haberman's "Girl" are mellow and melodic folk music that become memorable with relatively little exposure. The track that elevates this disc to an almost scary level is Dryer's "Mattie Boy." It has a disarmingly amateurish feel, led by Rachel Browning's simple guitar chording, but best of all is Browning's one-take vocal. Browning's voice is so achingly pure, it almost defies categorisation. To be sure, it has a very rural sound, but it transcends conventional country music. Surprisingly, Browning's taste runs more to Gillian Welch and Lyle Lovett than vintage Hank Williams. Whatever ghosts Browning has carried from her rural Virginia upbringing, I hope they keep haunting her. The song may have been a blessed accident. I hope not, but if it is, we still have it permanently etched on this limited pressing CD. (Andy Fish)