Ruby Lovett's 1998 self-titled debut on Curb was highly praised. So, it's a bit surprising that it has taken more than two decades for the Nashville-based singer/songwriter to follow it up with this impressive effort fueled by traditional country with touches of folk and bluegrass. The opening title track is a powerful cover of Nanci Griffith's poignant 1989 social commentary "It's a Hard Life Wherever You Go," which remains painfully contemporary ("A cafeteria line in Chicago/The fat man in front of me/Is calling black people trash to his children/He's the only trash here I see").
Lovett co-wrote five tracks, including the ballad "Where I'm Standing Today" with Pat Alger that recalls bad times ("I had sank so completely/There was no space beneath me") before finding happiness ("You picked me up from the bottom/Put me right where I'm standing today"). Some of the stronger compositions are the collaborations with Taylor Pie: "A Father's Love," which sings the praises of step-parents ("Some say blood is thicker than water/And though I wasn't born your daughter/You cherished me as if I were your own") and the uplifting love ballad "Straight From My Heart."
Pie, who co-produced with Lovett and Mark Miller, also contributed "Riley Bring Your Fiddle Around" with Gene Elders on fiddle and Lovett covers the Pie/Herb McCullough tune "Walking on the Moon." Jim Rushing/Carl Jackson tune "Home Sweet Honky Tonk" and a cover of the Allen Reynolds/Bob McDill 1971 classic "Catfish John" also are highlights.
With sweet vocals reminiscent of Emmylou Harris and Alison Krauss, solid compositions and nicely chosen covers "It's a Hard Life" marks a successful and welcome return to the studio.