On her fourth studio album, Meg Hutchinson's songwriting is lyrically superb as always. And she's sounding very serene these days - there's no mistaking the calming effect of love in her new songs and that after some private psychological war, her feet have come down firmly on the side of the living. She wants to inspire those tiptoeing along the Golden Gate Bridge with eyes skyward to do the same (Gatekeeper). Not to drown out the chirps of sadness of birds perched on your tree, but to listen to their song; not to turn away from darkness, but to become a night traveller using inner flashlights to illuminate the way forward (Full of Light).
She's skillful at threading the social and political into her personal world: the "strange and lovely vision" of passengers huddled on the rescue chutes of the plane which landed in the Hudson (Hopeful Things), the "year of the billion dollar bailout" and driving "past our Lady of Liberty" on Hard to Change. Knitted into this urban scenery is naturalistic imagery of lakes, apple fields, "a flock of white birds tossed into the sky" (a beautiful line!), and the mythic flight of Icarus towards the sun.
What slightly detracted from this atmosphere of poetic and emotional depth and the warmth of her voice was the production, which sometimes veered dangerously close to being too "soft", even a bit sentimental: especially the electric guitar on Yea Tho We Walk and the keyboards on See Me Now and Hard to Change (which left me wondering how much better they might sound without them or with piano accompaniment). I thought that the production sound on her last album Come Up Full, where the use of these "easy listening" keyboards wasn't apparent, fitted her songwriting perfectly.
But it's still a huge pleasure to wander through her visions and see the world through her eyes for eleven songs. How many other singer-songwriters reflect on the tyranny of machines in our modern lives - "I can barely hear you over these machines / Turn 'em all off and tell me about your dreams"? Or express our oppressive dependence on technology: "I bought all these tools to save time / Well, if they save so much, then where's all mine"? This is the sound of a soul wise beyond her years:
"They say perfect the life or perfect the art
A choice like that will only tear you apart
There's room for both of you in my heart."
-- Being Happy
Standouts (IMO): Hard to change, Hopeful things, Every Day, Travel in, Full of light