“Now I’m chasing rainbows all the time,” Casey Penn sings on the song aptly titled Chasing Rainbows, sharing the gratitude and inspiration she feels when it comes to making music. Having successfully taken part in any number of competitive gatherings — the Hazel Dickens Songwriting Competition, the Arkansas Talent Search, the Arkansas Country Music Awards, and the Walnut Valley Festival New Song Showcase — all in addition to Top 20 gains in our own Bluegrass Today music chart, she’s certainly no stranger when it comes to creating compelling melodies.
Nevertheless, those previous accomplishments don’t necessarily prepare the listener for the consistent quality evidenced in this debut endeavor for Mountain Fever Records, One Step Away. Penn herself helped compose half of its dozen songs, but the quality is consistent throughout, given her delicate yet decisive delivery, and the stirring sound created by a host of top notch players — banjo player Justin Moses, fiddlers Jason Roller and Tim Couch, bassist Kevin Grant, cellist Scott Mulvahill, guitarist and cowriter Thom Jutz, as well as a host of backing vocalists that includes Chris Latham, Tim Raybon, Mike Rogers, Val Story, Larry Cordle, and Carl Jackson. Most of the material leans to the mellower side, with an array of beautiful ballads taking precedence. All told, the songs share a decided ease and assurance, as evidenced by a tender and touching series of songs — Journey to Providence, Oceans, Little Lives, The Blade, How To Bend, Dark and Desperate, as well as the title track.
Other tracks — the aforementioned Chasing Rainbows, Would These Arms Be in Your Way, and We Go Together Like a Guitar and a Fiddle — offer an emphatic expression of true tenderness in symbolic syntax, coaxing kindness and joy with every refrain. Penn regales in optimism, and while only a few of these songs approximate any sort of ready ramble — Chasing Rainbows being the most obvious — the sentiments she shares remain undeniably upbeat. This is an impressive entry after all, and one that bodes well for whatever that’s destined to follow. In the meantime, as its title suggests, Penn’s no more than one step away from some certain success.