In the decade I have known and listened to Corinne West, her music has been both my refuge and my addiction. From the stomach-tightening interior ballad “Angel“ on her 2004 album, Bound for Living, to the drumming authority of “Pollen” in the 2014 re-mastered The Promise, Corinne West’s music has been in a class of its own, with a shelf of its own in my collection. Her new album, Starlight Highway will receive even a higher place of honor in my Corrine West shelf. Starlight Highway is transformative: it sounds - no, it feels - like Corinne has taken you to a different dimension, one that is sensual beyond what music is capable of. It courses through your headphones or speakers like a transfusion of her life-force to yours.
Listening to Starlight Highway puts you in the serene eye of a swirling storm of notes, images, rhythms, stories and above all, that voice. Starlight Highway unfurls the ripening of West’s voice that a decade ago soared crystalline clear, but sometimes cruised with jagged edges. The sharp edges are still there in Starlight Highway, but only when and how she wants them to be. From the rising octaves of determined hope in lines like my love I’m coming home in “Give Our ships Away” to the angelic insolence of I don’t mind what you may think/I know how to fly in “Monday’s Song”, to the quick-paced authority of the title song, West presents a tonal purity beyond her earlier recordings combined with a command and range hinted at in the previous album, The Promise, but not completely consummated until now, in Starlight Highway.
Because West puts you in the eye of the storm of her life in this album, Starlight Highway is a joy through head phones. It was birthed with a sound so lush and layered it that demands its own ear space. As an artist at the apex of Americana and folk music in both the USA and the UK, West attracts the finest musicians and she assembled a musical force equal to her own voice and guided them to record each song richly formed with guitars, mandolins, basses (electric and 7-string fretless) Hammond and Wurlitzer organs, drums and paired and backup vocals. She conducted them like a sorcerous-maestro in Starlight Highway to surface each note, each riff, each accent perfectly into ten songs, each of which exceeds the sum of its parts.
There are no covers in Starlight Highway. Each song was written by West or by West and Kelly Joe Phelps and draws on her peripatetic life as a 4th generation mountain-born Californian who left home at 16 with her guitar to travel the state in a converted school bus, played in hard rock bands in LA, studied theatre, restored antique bi-plane wings, worked as a stonemason and opened a fine art business in fused-glass and metal with a blacksmith.
West settles us back down to the country soil with “Audrey Turn the Moon” and “Cry of the Echo Drifter”, both written with Phelps who joins West’s rhythm guitar with his own precision riffs. In “Cry of the Echo Drifter”, West tells a lover that without you beside me/I won’t last another day, one of those twists and turns. As Marshall’s mandolin injects sparks and color into the gentle song Phelps adds his voice to hers on the vocals to fill out the melody and the message.
Sing for me soft till the night falls away/leave the struggling darkness with nothin to say/
Hold me so tight that the world can’t get in/ then dance with me darling again
Holding you tight and dancing with you is exactly what Starlight Highway does. But it does much more; it gives West’s fans a deeper look into her past and present. Usually reticent about her personal life, Starlight Highway draws upon West’s history to chronicle incidents, loves, losses and emotional turmoil and calm more personally than she has in earlier works. The result is a music from the eye of the musical storm that is the wonder of Corinne West.