Carrie Elkin’s first solo album since 2011’s Call It My Garden is as diametrically opposed to its predecessor as one could possibly imagine. While Call It My Garden was full of chuckles and the sheer joy of playing The Penny Collector is a sometimes sombre affair. Written within a tumultuous year that encompassed the joyful delivery of her first child and the sorrowful passing of her father Elkin has delivered a meditative collection of songs with a wonderful production from Neilson Hubbard. Paying tribute to her father on several songs along with ruminations and memories, pain and loss and joy intermingled, the album gives full rein to Elkin’s glorious voice while red dirt Austin country gives way at times to an almost chamber folk sound filled with cello, violin and viola. The arrangements throughout are excellent as are the players. Producer Hubbard wields drums and percussion to great effect while Will Kimbrough on guitar is at times spectacular. There’s a heady mix of yearning ballads (at times reminiscent of Emmylou Harris’ best work), evocative American vistas and in the midst of these some sparkling, invigorating and punchy rock.
The album opens with the impressionistic Americana of New Mexico as a plaintive acoustic guitar is enhanced by Kimbrough’s atmospheric sunset squalls, the stage set for Elkins to embark on her voyage from birth to death as she sings, “I can feel the heart beat in everything around me,” her voice echoed by the harmony vocals of her husband Danny Schimdt. There’s a circle of sorts as Elkin closes the album with a similar sonic feel on the crepuscular Lamp Of The Body , the guitars again ethereal and the voices almost hymnal. In between Elkin revisits her youth on the excellent Tilt-A-Whirl which tilts indeed between quiet passages with Elkin recollecting the past and a defiant chorus suffused with the joy of youth. Live Wire is a tale of teenage rebellion with “daddy’s little girl” running off only to find it’s a wicked world and running back home. With an urgent pulse as the song progresses the band capture perfectly the restlessness and confusion of adolescence, the drums propelling the song, lyrical guitars slowing the flow mid song. My Brother Said rings with more confusion amidst an angry beat that is sweetened by a tremendous confection of keyboards and mandolin before a ferocious fuzz fuelled guitar erupts towards the end.
Elkin address directly the grim reaper on the sweeping ballad of And Then The Birds Came, a song suffused with imagery that captures the emotions of bereavement, a moment of loss but also leaving space for those defiant saviours, memory and hope. It’s a sense that’s carried into the next song, Crying Out, which finds Elkin surveying her situation, hanging on to the blessings in her life, a man to hold, a baby on its way but still able to express her grief safely ensconced in her family.
The Penny Collector is an album of beauty. Wonderfully arranged and played, the songs nuanced, a mature reflection on the mortal coil. The album title came about as Elkin’s father was a coin collector and on his passing the family found his hoard of 600,000 pennies, all lovingly collected and preserved. As she says in the liner notes, “My dad had a way of finding value and delight in the tiny things that other people might walk past,” and Ms. Elkin has immortalised him with this excellent album.