Though the cover art pictures a woman who resembles a cross between Rosie the Riveter and Ellie May Clampett, it mostly serves as a reminder that neither books nor albums can be judged by their covers. Ida Clare is a band, not a person, and image aside, it’s really only the music that matters. Hailing from Louisville, Kentucky, this eponymous effort may mark the outfit’s debut, but it’s as assured and credible as anything offered by a group with a far more extensive pedigree. While the style and stance vary to a degree, they find a foundation in bluegrass, with banjo and mandolin used to underscore their sound.
Made up of mandolin player and songwriter Jim Wheatley, vocalist Lea Cockrell, bassist Mark Miller, and banjo player Robin Thixton, Ida Clare is more than merely an astute group of talented musicians. While some ensembles stake their reputation strictly on their ability to pick and play, Ida Clare uses its members’ talents to underscore the songs. Indeed, apart from the rambling instrumental Around the Town, each of these offerings stress the fact that the melodies are of prime importance. Opening track Hold On is both earnest and engaging, a prime example of a glorious grassicana fusion. The heartfelt Time Traveller follows suit, a tune infused with sobriety and circumspect. Don’t Let Me Go and Walls are, in equal measure, both resolute and resilient, indicative of deeper purpose and a more passionate pursuit. Ditto the beautiful ballad, Don’t Take Me Back, one of many highlights and further proof of the band’s savvy and skill.
While much of the album seems to delve into deeper meaning, some of the songs aim for upbeat appeal. Honey Man is the kind of tune that would befit a hoedown, especially given its fanciful tone and treatment. For the most part however, the songs find a compromise between the pacing and the pronouncements. You’re Not There and Chance on You are underscored by Thixton’s busy banjo, turning each into a kind of romantic romp that still manages to articulate the emotion.
Ultimately Ida Clare deserve credit for interspersing their craft with conviction. An impressive debut, it bodes well for whatever may come next.