Saturday, May 18, 2019

Rj Cowdery: “What If This Is All There Is” (2019) CD Review

Rj Cowdery is a singer and songwriter based in Columbus, Ohio. Her new album, What If This Is All There Is, is full of beautiful, moving, emotionally engaging songs that feel designed to help pull us through these unsettling times and our own personal troubles. She provides a sweet and friendly voice, like a hand reaching out to us in the darkness. Most of the songs here are originals, written by Rj Cowdery. Joining her on this release are Thomm Jutz on acoustic guitar and electric guitar; Mark Fain on upright bass; Lynn Williams on drums; Jen Gunderman on keys; and Justin Moses on banjo, fiddle and mandolin. Ingrid Graudins, Melissa Greener and Amy Speace provide backing vocals. Amy Speace also produced the album.

Rj opens this new disc with “Somewhere A Place,” and her voice immediately draws me in. This song is beautiful and engaging, with an earnest and honest vocal performance. Check out these lines: “Trouble seemed to follow you around/You took some beatings into the arms of another town/Disappearing without a sound/ Somewhere a place, somewhere in time/Two hearts embrace what was left behind.” This track also features some nice work on keys. That’s followed by the album’s the title track, “What If This Is All There Is,” one of my favorites, in large part because of the song’s lyrics. Here is a taste: “Gotta figure out where I’m going/Maybe I’m not going anywhere/Are these miles that I drive, lines that I ride/Just a hopeless love affair/Because what if this is all there is/What if this is all the love I’m ever gonna give/And the ladder that I’m on/Standing on the highest rung/I’m ever gonna stand/What if this is all there is.” We all ask ourselves these questions, don’t we? And Rj’s delivery is full of passion and truth and life. This is a gorgeous and moving song.

“Secrets Of My Dreams” has something of a sweet and gentle folk sound, and I like Justin Moses’ work on both mandolin and fiddle here. “In the morning when I cry, I think about all that I am given/I think about everything I had, all the good and all the bad.” Then suddenly we get a song that comes on with more volume, more energy, more attitude, titled “Broken Wheel.” Its lyrics of course are just as compelling as those of the previous tracks. Check out these lines: “Life goes on even though you’re stuck/Your feet won’t move and your mind won’t heal/Everything’s a wreck, you’re a broken wheel/You told yourself so many times/If it got this bad you’d end it by/Popping of a gun, pushing of a pill/Make a big splash rolling down that hill.” That’s followed by a more intimate-sounding song, “Don’t Give Up,” in which Rj sings “Don’t you give up on this love/Don’t go racing the wind/Because it will blow, oh, but we can mend/We’re not broken if we bend.” She gives us another beautiful vocal performance here.

How often do we find ourselves saying there is no time these days? And as we get older, and time moves more quickly, it feels more and more difficult to find the time to do things like see friends, relax, read a book, and just feel good. In “Is There Time,” Rj Cowdery addresses this topic, singing “And I just don’t know what happened/Life keeps flashing by/If I could only take this moment.” She reminds us to take those moments, that time is there for us to use: “There’s time for just about anything that you can think of/There’s time in the morning when the sun is on the rise.” That’s followed by “Shotgun Rider,” which features some nice work on banjo, and then “Girl In The War,” the only song on the album not written by Rj Cowdery. It was written by Josh Ritter, and is the opening track on his 2006 album, The Animal Years. Rj does an excellent job with it, delivering a moving vocal performance. “I got a girl in the war, Paul, the only thing I know to do/Is turn up the music and pray that she makes it through.”

“Get Out Of Here” is a pretty and intimate and gentle song. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Maybe now is not the time to talk about the past/But I sure miss those days of wonder, I sure wish they would have lasted/Just a little bit longer, a few more years/Long enough to claim my innocence I hid behind the tears/I used to think I’d save the world with the words that I’d write down.” I also really like the work on acoustic guitar. This entire album is strong and engaging. It concludes with “Lost And Found,” which also has an intimate sound. I feel like Rj doesn’t hide anything; her voice, and her approach to a song make us feel that she opens herself. There is something so appealing about this song, in part because of lines like “And oh what a journey, such a hurry/Let’s slow this whole thing down” and “I think we’ve finally earned the time to sit back and exhale.” Here she again reminds us to take our time and enjoy our lives, for soon it will all be gone. This is another favorite of mine, and it features some beautiful stuff on fiddle.

CD Track List
  1. Somewhere A Place
  2. What If This Is All There Is
  3. Secrets Of My Dream
  4. Broken Wheel
  5. Don’t Give Up
  6. Is There Time
  7. Shotgun Rider
  8. Girl In The War
  9. Get Out Of Here
  10. Lost And Found
What If This Is All There Is was released on May 17, 2019.

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