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Caroline Spence

Somehow – 2015 ( Self-released)

Reviewed by Kevin Oliver

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CDs by Caroline Spence

There's a vulnerability in Virginia native Caroline Spence's voice, but rather than being an indicator of weakness, it becomes a strength that imbues her winsome narratives with an emotive power akin to Emmylou Harris or Nanci Griffith. The crowd-funded "Somehow" showcases Spence amid a cast of studio and touring pros; to continue the comparison, let's call this her "Love at the Five and Dime," an ambitious album that will resonate for years among her fans and peers.

The nostalgic "Hello Tomorrow" is a coming-of-age story that's short on specifics, but full of real emotion, while "Hard Headed, Hard Hearted" turns a nicely phrased chorus into an aching lament:

"Hard headed, hard hearted, we must be one of the two / Even when we mean well, even when we try, we just can't get where we're going to."

Spence isn't afraid to expand her sound outside of those intensely personal confines, and she has some fun with "Seeing Other People," a twangy, retro country swing tune that sounds sweet but hits a guy right where it hurts, in his ego.

The lone track re-recorded from Spence's 2013 debut EP, "Whiskey Watered Down," might just be her definitive statement against watered-down country songwriters, if not the current country scene itself: "there's one like you on every corner of this town, loving you's like drinking whiskey watered down."

Caroline Spence may be a lot of things, but her incisive, heart-on-a-sleeve songs could never be accused of being diluted with anything other than tears.