[AMERICANA] Paula Sinclair's The Good Horse sets five Oregon poets' words to music. Sinclair's precise, emotive singing sounds amazing, as does Rob Stroup's production and the work of players like Chris Robley and Paul Brainard (keys and guitar, respectively). But poetry is holy—and Sinclair sins against the verses she's chosen.
The lyric sheet's first line, from William Stafford's "Song Now," contains a typo—and the inattention to detail soon spreads. Stafford's verse reads, "Silence puts a paw/ Wherever the music rests." Sinclair changes "a" to "her," and "wherever" to "whenever." But one puts a paw in a physical, not temporal, spot. And why assign gender to silence? She also alters "Guitar string is:/ It can save this place" to "...And it could save this place," gratuitously weakening the poem's closing.
A mistaken perspective shift spoils the next song, a gorgeous country ballad built upon Dorianne Laux's "Sunday Radio." In first-person, a wife relates hearing her husband harmonize wistfully with a woman's recorded voice. But near the end, Sinclair sings, "And pausing at the staircase /She listens"—not "to listen," as written. The poem's "she" is the recorded vocalist, not the wife—and Sinclair's third-person pronoun jostles the focus.
Swamp-rocker "Telephone Repairman" is also distorted—again marring an excellent track. Joseph Millar's protagonist splices wires "White-blue to white-blue/ Violet-slate to violet-slate[.]" Sinclair renders this "white to blue" and "violet to slate." When a poem expands from specific to macrocosmic, those details are essential. This repairman's crossing his wires!
Not all changes are missteps, however: When, in "The Shadow," Sinclair fashions a rhyming chorus from Debbie West's closing, adding "at all" to "And I did not recall/ Having married a shadow," it works—especially since she then repeats the line as written.
Lest anyone think I'm obsessed with details: Poetry is details. If Stafford thought silence was female, he'd have put "her," not "a," on the page. So this swell-sounding album gets an A for ambition—reduced to B- for sloppy execution.
Sinclair celebrates the release of
Saturday, Oct. 20, with Kate Mann and Reina G. Collins at Vino Vixens. 8 pm. $5. 21+.