Welcome Her Back
I've traded notes on songwriting with Seattle singer-songwriter Stefanie Robbins at the Beacon Hill Songwriters' Circle, so she invited me to her CD release concert and asked me to write a review of Welcome Her Back. Her new album is quite the professional production. She likes a touch of sentimental country slide behind her big voice and effective chord changes, and the polished band obliges. You can hear bits of Carole King, Stevie Nicks, and Dolly Parton in Stef's songwriting and Eric Miller's arrangements.
When Stef is anthemic she can sound defiant, as when she celebrates a wilder "her" tucked inside herself in the title song Welcome Her Back. Other times she's rhapsodic. I'm guessing that Eric Miller's detailed arrangements bring out her grander side, as in the gorgeous overdubbed outro at the end of Carried Away, where multiple Stefanies emulate the effect of letting herself tumble in and out of love. I'm not sure, however, that Eric's efforts can find much new in Let My Cards Show (an image trademarked by Kenny Rogers), or sort out the planetary metaphor of Constant One (it's hard to improve upon John Donne imagining his spouse the "fixed foot" of a compass that "makes me end where I begun.")
Stef trying to push questions out of her mouth as fast as she can while young Sedona is still there to hear them. Sedona is struggling to fend off a hard loneliness that Stef recognizes. Perhaps she remembers perfectly well her own impatience with such nosy questions just a few years back while she was on the street. Yet now she's in the position of asking Sedona those very same questions because she cares about her, worries that she will be hurt or disappear. And in songwriting as well, the more intimately the song yields to the complex gestures of the singer's spoken voice. That's what Joni Mitchell was doing when she began a song with the spoken phrase "No regrets, Coyote" ― turning that sassy line into a moment of theater. I hope that Stef will continue to feel comfortable writing songs in her own personal voice, and peppering them to taste with remarks directed at particular people.
The night of her CD release show, I asked Stef "Where are we welcoming you back from?" and she answered "Myself." That's an intriguing answer.
- Hank Davis (edited for brevity; full review here)