Twenty years ago, no one would have guessed that the Lower 9th Ward would become one of the hippest recording studio hotspots in the country. But as Uptown became Hollywood South, CTC (cross the canal) became Gulf Coast Nashville and that same strange mixture of tragedy, technology, gentrification and Bohemia has come to define 21st Century NOLA. For better or worse, the symbol of the city’s street cred is now a semi-rural artist’s enclave.
The New Comfortable fits Esther Rose well on her second and likely breakthrough album. Marrying the croon of Patsy Cline with the twang of Loretta Lynn and the adenoidal angst of Tammy Wynette, she sounds even more relaxed here than on her debut, effortlessly mixing classic country tropes with an indie sensibility. In fact, so natural is her approach, having only learned guitar a few years ago to solidify her songwriting, that it may take you a couple of passes to realize this is a new country classic, catchy and winsome, homey yet with an old master’s attention to detail.
Beginning and ending with guitar-and-voice-only bookends, “You Made It This Far” excels at portraits of a moment, whether it be a memory of a rural childhood (“Goldenrod and Applecrisp / Harvest time feels like this”) or a meet-cute right when it starts to get real (“I know you’ve got some girls at home / Please make them go away”). Matt Bell’s lap steel and Lyle Werner’s fiddle add just the right touch of loopy sincerity to her originals, piercingly sweet and comically drunken all at once. You can also feel every bent nail and creaky floorboard in the home where this was recorded, but that has as much to do with Esther’s author’s eye and guileless delivery as it does the neighborhood itself. Still, when she sings “Lower 9 Valentine” it’s almost impossible to tell whether she’s seducing a lover or nesting in a new and happy place. And it doesn’t matter.