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 The Good Horse Saturday, Oct. 20, with Kate Mann and Reina G. Collins at Vino Vixens. 8 pm. $5. 21+.