Paula Sinclair – Steady Girl

doa-paulasinclair-steadygirl2009The rich alt-country of Steady Girl could fit comfortably in the rotation at your local country radio station. The album calls attention to Paula Sinclair’s honest reflections, and her earthy vocals would be a nice counterpoint to the glossier stylings of artists like Carrie Underwood.

Sinclair works out of Portland, Oregon.  Although the singer has a hearty folk streak in her, the music on Steady Girl is far more country than alternative. Still, the album should appeal to a wide, albeit mature, audience. She shares many of the strengths of Lucinda Williams.

Sinclair’s country inflections are incited more by uptempo songs. Her mature voice enjoys the company of a slide guitar, dojo, banjo,  pedal steel guitar, mandolin, Hammond B3, piano, bass, and drums. There is no denying the strong musicianship, but the commercially crafted employment of these instruments bears the scent of hired studio musicians. Thankfully, there is no disconnect between the artist and the music.

Lyrics focus on themes of loneliness, wanting, and the quiet confidence that comes with knowing yourself. When Sinclair sings about love, she adopts realistic–sometimes lowered–expectations. Any trace of cynicism is checked by a silver lining.

Steady Girl pulls off the delicate maneuver of sounding consistent while offering a variety of themes, vocal inflections, moods, and tempos. Opening track “Something Sweeter” gives occasional hints of the potential power behind Sinclair’s voice — a power she never exploits. This track brings a full sound with the vocal and country rock electric guitar up front and sounding crisp.

One of the album’s best tracks, “Drifting”, is a slow ballad about lovers grown apart. Sinclair offers the slightly ambiguous lyric, “Is it true they once were like me and you? / They looked into each other’s heart and thought they knew / that the promises made would be kept until their dying day / Nothing, no one, would ever stand in their way / But now they’re drifting … ” Is she enjoying the strength of her own relationship compared to that of the failing lovers’, or is she lamenting the fact that this is the likely fate of all young love? In context, my money is on the latter. A melancholic and mourning slide guitar shines on “Something Blue”, a sleepless late night ballad. At over five and a half minutes, the song runs a bit long, but still wins for having the undeniably rootsy country lyric, “You walk in circles and you walk in silence, and you make good dreams for what you lack / Something old, something new, something old, and something blue / Of these only one is true, and it’s always been something blue”.

Not every track is a winner. A few songs have that predictably formulaic, commercially over-sweetened sound plaguing so much of the lesser quality music found on the dial today. “Even If I Fall” and “Looking for Love” tread such waters.

But, overall, Steady Girl is a solid album built on Paula Sinclair’s strengths. Sure, you’re listening to something your mom would like–usually a no-no–but you’re also seeing the value of her honest personal expressions and the carefully crafted but restrained instrumentation.