Garrison Starr - Amateur Record Label: Self-released
Release Date: May 1, 2012
God bless Memphis. The city that brought us Elvis, Sun Records and countless others, has also birthed one of the nation's most brilliant, if not underrated singer-songwriters. Her name: Garrison Starr. While technically from Hernando, MS, the city counts itself as a Memphis suburb and Starr spent a good chunk in the famed river city. And while she's probably a new name to most that frequent this site, the southern sweetheart has been putting out quality records since 1997, when at the precious age of 22, she released the near-perfect Eighteen Over Me on Geffen Records. Her latest album, Amateur, her eighth full-length studio effort, is another notch on the belt of an artist who rarely, if ever, disappoints. Amateur is notable for its bevy of guest artists and co-writers, including but not limited to: Kevin Devine, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Glen Phillips, Josh Joplin and others.
The disc opens with the gently lifting "Pull Your Head Down," which is a perfect introduction to the music of Starr. This is quintessential Garrison, doing what she does best. Articulate, inoffensive and sweetly melodic, it is everything that has made Starr such a charmer for the better part of the last two decades. That sentiment is continued on the affecting narrative, "To Garrison, On Her 29th Birthday," which bristles with urgency, empathy and passion The Kevin Devine co-write "Slow Crawl," is next and is arguably one of the disc's better moments. Ostensibly a relationship song, its mid-tempo structure and catchy chorus marry together with the lines, "Take a reflex hammer to a brick wall, brace yourself for a big fall, its a ground war coming. This isn't for the faint of heart, pace yourself for a false start, its a ground war coming, it's a slow crawl."
The old-timed soul Americana vibe of "The Train That's Bound for Glory," sounds like a song Memphis could adopt as its own and does very little to disappoint. While the song itself is a bit of a departure for Starr, like the seasoned veteran she is, she doesn't let the song fail. In less capable hands, this song could have easily been marked as a throwaway. Instead, it is anything but.
From there, Amateur slows down considerably, with only "The Day The Rains Came to Schoharie," "When You're Really Trying," and "When Nobody Was Looking," being the only upbeat tracks of the remaining seven. But that small fact should not outdo the weight and importance of the album's back half. Truth be told, Starr is a rare treasure, whose voice has the ability to convey an array of emotions like so few of her contemporaries. Whether its courting a future lover in "Rednecks or Sailors," pondering life's low moments ("Between the Devil's Rain and a Dying Language") or finding hope from the darkest of days ("Other People's Eyes"), there's a clarity and conviction at work here that is too hard to pass up and even harder to ignore.
Garrison Starr is no amateur, in fact she's anything but. One listen to this disc proves exactly that.