Whether charging a babysitter with the task of watching our children on a Saturday night or tossing our car keys to a wheel-less friend, it’s not easy to put the things we dearly love into the hands of others. To do so requires faith that whomever we’re trusting with our most treasured possessions will care for them as we would.
With her latest collection of tunes, Voices of Friends, Vermont songwriter Carol Abair does just that, enlisting a handful of talented cohorts to perform her compositions. While occasionally burdened with sentimentality, the album fairly teems with down-home Vermont spirit. The result is a disc that even the most jaded critic can’t help but appreciate.
Abair is a sturdy tunesmith. She rarely pushes boundaries, existing comfortably in the well-loved nooks of standard folk-song constructs. Her metaphors are effective, if somewhat obvious. Thematically, she touches all the usual bases: life, love and liberty — with a few obligatory references to passing seasons and country roads. While there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking in her writing, Abair’s work carries a subtle undercurrent of maternal tenderness that is pleasantly familiar.
Giving voice to the songwriter’s words are her aforementioned friends. And she seems to have quite a few. Colchester singer-songwriter Rebecca Padula leads off the album with “When I Leave Winooski,” which also appeared on her own most recent album, Fire & Water.
Karen McFeeters drops in on the heartbreaking ballad “My Only Son,” an album highlight. Here, Abair’s simplicity is her greatest asset, aided gracefully by McFeeters’ understated performance to relate the pain of watching one’s son march to war. It is a stirring number.
Kip Meaker makes an appearance on the next track, “Outside Looking In.” The blues stalwart’s Marc Cohn-esque performance is a standout. But the real treat here is the deft work by Phil Abair, Carol’s brother. The veteran musician handles arrangement duties for every track but one — “My Home Is Vermont,” arranged by Robin Gottfried. He also tweaked the knobs and faders from recording through mastering, and receives co-producing credit to boot.
Despite the local A-list talent populating the album — Christine McConnell, Mark Lurvey and the late Rachel Bissex also have guest-vocalist appearances — the star of the show is Carol Abair herself. She even makes a “cameo,” taking the lead on the disc’s final track, “I’ve Heard Them Talking.”
We could all use a good friend or two. With Voices of Friends, Abair was kind enough to share hers with us. Thanks, Carol.