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Sweet Life Press


Every once in awhile somebody will declare the current annum to be The Year Of The Woman, and although it is almost always offered with the best of intentions it's needlessly reckless, if not downright demeaning. I'm not convinced there's any population subset that fancies getting the Chinese New Year treatment; that implies it'll be a number of years before the "honor" gets bestowed again, so in 12 months it'll be back to "business as usual." But then, those TYOTW pronouncements are invariably made by males. And what do we know?

Just the same, 2008 is already giving any year in recent memory a solid run for the money, what with staggeringly fine recordings from Duffy, Joan Osborne, Lucinda Williams, Jenny Lewis, CSS, Lykke Li, A Broke Heart Pro, Shelby Lynne, Tift Merritt, Laura Marling, Sharon Little, Shannon McArdle, the Pack A.D., Amy Ray, Abigail Washburn, Veda Hille and Joan As Police Woman (just to name a few). Add to that list Boston's Catie Curtis, who for her 10th album didn't just craft a gem - Sweet Life, in its irresistible swing, twang, strum and hum, is a career-capper.

Part of the reason is the record's overwhelmingly positive vibe, something Curtis herself explicitly acknowledges in comments she posted to her MySpace page. "There are lots of reasons to be unhappy or anxious at this time," writes Curtis, "and I think the album is as much about resilience as anything. In order to stay sane and keep moving forward you have to be able to look at all the bad news around you and still see the beauty that is there alongside the trouble."

Indeed, on song after song on Sweet Life, Curtis finds, as Tim Hardin might put it, the proverbial reasons to believe. In the gently rolling title track, against an elegant backdrop of electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin and keyboards, she looks back on the heartbreaks she's experienced at various points in her life, acknowledges that it can be "a bitter pill to swallow" sometimes, then celebrates the fact that had her life not taken the twists and turns it did she wouldn't have found her present bliss: "But it led me here to this/ Sweet life beside you." Similarly, in the luminous, upbeat and irresistibly twangy "Everything Waiting to Grow," Curtis bestows a bit of metaphorical wisdom that'll be familiar to anyone who's ever spent some time living in the desert (and, in particular, took note of what happens during monsoon season): "Give me a little bit of rain/ I want to believe it's true/ We don't wait in vain/ No, the desert will bloom/ With all the juniper, all the willow vine/ And all the beautiful underneath/ Coming up to shine."

Such an outlook would be wasted if the music didn't equal the lyrics' optimism. But Curtis has surrounded herself by a crack collection of Nashville musicians (among them, guitarist George Martinelli, organist Phil Madeira and backing vocalist Andrea Zonn) to yield a memorable set essaying everything from fiddle-powered country-rock ("Fools") and Memphis-style smoky soul ("For Now") to old-time dancehall ("Lovely") and sinewyslinkysexycool pop ("Soul Meets Body," a Death Cab For Cutie cover, and one of the album's unexpected high points). Factor in Curtis' always engaging vocals - she sounds at times like a cross between Jenny Lewis, Dusty Springfield and Joan Osborne, but as any fan will tell you she's never anything less than instantly identifiable as Catie Curtis - and it all adds up to a sonic journey guaranteed to put a smile on your face, get your feet tapping, and leave a warm glow in the tummy.

Maybe we could dispense with all that  TYOTW and call 2008, instead, TYOCC - The Year Of Catie Curtis. Any takers?
Standout Tracks: "Fools," "Soul Meets Body" FRED MILLS