Laura Benitez and the Heartache: With All Its Thorns

An album of country heartache and grief

Benitez’s 2014 debut, Heartless Woman, was a breath of fresh country air. Though she favored a classic sound laced with pedal steel and twangy electric guitar, her lyrics picked up and modernized the empowered themes of Tammy Wynette and other breakthrough women of country. She opens her third album with a twangy, accordion-lined two-step that admits that her efforts to sustain a failed relationship have only produced a broken heart and the scar of self realization. She looks forward to fondly looking back with the expectant “Our Remember When,” but when those memories finally arrive, they turn out to be the bitter pills of “Easier Things to Do” and the murderous end of “In Red.”

Guitarist Bob Spector lays down a fetching acoustic solo and accordionist Billy Wilson adds atmosphere as the wavering bilingual vocal of “Almost the Right One/Casi mi Cielo” offers the intensity of Joan Baez and the heartbroken longing of Linda Ronstadt. She sings of cheating lovers and endless romantic disappointment, yet remains optimistic and surprisingly trusting as she revels in the relationship of “The Fool I Am Right Now.” She’s often willing to take what she can get, and rather than growing embittered when what she can get isn’t enough, she finally takes off on the album closing “Nora Went Down the Mountain.” As throughout the album, the interplay of twangy electric guitar, steel and fiddle is perfectly balanced against Benitez’s vocal.

The album’s biggest heartache and most gripping moment is its memorial to the victims of the harrowing 2016 Ghostship fire. Benitez flashes the outlines of the horrific event and laments the emotional aftermath of those missing the missing. A strummed guitar, droning low notes and Steve Kallai’s mournful violin underline the grief that grew with each addition to the list of those caught in the conflagration. Four years on from Heartless Woman, Benitez’s band is tighter and her voice has found a deeper pocket in the mix. Like a moth circling a flame, she’s drawn to the glow of love, even as it singes her romantic wings, and that’s good news for fans of country music, as she delivers a strong album of original, twangy heartbreak – thorns and all. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

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