on “Motherlode”

Musically, thematically, even spiritually, this two-disc meditation on motherhood and the joys and frustrations of women is the most wildly ambitious release of the veteran Texan’s career. After channeling her talents into a series of children’s albums in recent years, Sara Hickman returns to thoroughly adult concerns (as the cover illustration from the Kama Sutra attests). Though her style has long straddled folk and pop, the richness of these arrangements underscores the depth of her lyrics. On "To a Maddening Ghost," the melodic sophistication and inventive section support a desperate prayer, a lullaby for the sleepless, while the stirring lead guitar from David Grissom (Joe Ely, Dixie Chicks) brings "Living in Quiet Desperation" to a strong, almost triumphant finale. In addition to the eclecticism of her own material, Hickman offers a surprising range of covers, including a somber reading of Tears for Fears’ "Mad World," a jazzy recasting of the Rolling Stones’ "Mother’s Little Helper," an inspirational reading of Peter Himmelman’s "This Too Shall Pass," and a rendition of the traditional "Wagoner’s Lad" that evokes Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention. The discs split in terms of mood, with despair dominant on the first and happiness permeating the second, as the seven-minute "My Mama’s Hands" (with harmonies from Kelly Willis) provides a bridge of generational continuity.

–Don McLeese,

To top