If you’re following Loretta Lynn’s example in music, your battle to be heard is already halfway won. B.B. Cole, like Lynn, didn’t pick up an instrument and begin writing songs until her mid-30’s with pivotal life experiences already under her belt. It produces a special sort of artist. Cole has moved past the vagaries of youthful alienation and the flushes of discovering often coloring our younger days. She has found her place in the world and Outgrowing Ourselves celebrates that but, as well, she’s still searching, and you hear it in the songs. The tracks for this album are a musical record of Cole’s life three decades plus in and resonates with intimacy, humor, and honesty.
“She Gave Me Feathers” is a well-chosen opener kicking Outgrowing Ourselves off with a breezy up-tempo number. The electric guitar work, in particular, is the musical strength leaping out time after time, but the drumming gives urgency to the track. It’s the first example, as well, of how Cole mines her own life for songwriting material, yet never addresses her experiences with self-importance. Few, if any, of us have heard a track like “Demons”. It is, essentially, a paean to the quirks, obsessions, and low-impact dysfunctions that make her who she is. Tom Waits once said, “If I exorcise my devils, well, my angels may leave too”, and it applies here.
“Some Kind of Religion” illustrates her thoughtful side for listeners. The glistening flourishes recurring throughout the song add to its overall elegance and the gentle vocal has a breathy emotive quality many will enjoy. The electric guitar playing reaches another peak with the song “Pieces of Me”, but some listeners may hear Cole’s music as a little over-reliant on formula during the album’s first half. There are exceptions, obviously. For others, however, this consistency will rate among the album’s strengths. She does shift things around for the seventh song “When I Was a Little Girl” with a deliberate opening preluding the main body of the song’s shuffle tempo. She has a near-ideal voice for this sort of material and her comfort level with retro-oriented material like this never wavers. It’s a lyrical highlight, as well, tailored to suit the arrangement.
She breaks with country influences in a decisive way for the penultimate song. A simple but physical bass line practically thuds in listener’s chest during “Wear Your Crown” and it’s accompanied by a slinky, straight-ahead beat that swings from the first. This will unquestionably be one of the album’s more popular efforts, but its commercial appeal doesn’t come at the expense of its credibility. “Tears + Fears” ends the album on a daring note. It’s an acapella number, for all intents and purposes, as she foregoes the typical band or solo setup in favor of nature sound fx heard throughout the cut.
The exceptional sensitivity of her vocal is emblematic of the album as a whole. She approaches each of its nine songs with a sense of stakes rather than meaningless entertainments, however fun, for listeners. B.B. Cole’s Outgrowing Ourselves is the sort of high-quality release that will make listeners come back for more.