American folk music has never been as diverse a genre as it is today, and that’s more than obvious even when engaging in a cursory listening session with Christine Hand’s Standing on the Shoulders. Hand, a product of the Texas underground, isn’t content to rehash the same rhythm and rhymes that those who came before her championed decades ago, and in Standing on the Shoulders, she establishes herself as an artist who, while acknowledging the blueprints set forth by those who inspired her work, is determined to make a name for herself on her terms and no one else’s.
This album’s best songs, like the title track, “Love Me True,” and “Simple Life,” blend surreal melodies with sharp lyrics that cut through the enigmas and break emotions down in pastoral poetry, while it’s more experimental content, like “Take it Slow,” “Time to Embrace” and “Be Still,” melds the moodiness of blues with the self-awareness of alternative Americana, yielding a style of play that is Hand’s alone. It’s an LP that is almost impossible to put down once you’ve picked it up for the first time, and I think that’s impressive for any artist – underground, mainstream, or otherwise.
The harmonies are the centerpiece of every song on this record, and in “In the Black and White” and “House of Bread,” they press the lyrics together in a fashion that demands a reaction out of listeners whether they relate to the surface narratives or not. Hand has a way of presenting statements as if they were passing thoughts in Standing on the Shoulders, alluding to the notion of this being more of an off-the-cuff collection of jams rather than a pre-rehearsed set of tracks destined for the FM dial. The rhythm of the instrumentation conflicts mightily with the vocal cadence in “Simple Life” and “Take it Slow,” but instead of this inspiring some kind of avant-garde discordance, it only adds to the emotional subtext of the verses.
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We’re given front-row seats to the kind of intimate, closed-door concert in Standing on the Shoulders normally reserved for industry insiders exclusively, and even if I weren’t a professional critic, the chills that this experience induces upon every listen are simply too enticing to be dismissed.
Christine Hand still has some room for creative growth, but all in all, I love the direction that she’s taking her music in with the release of Standing on the Shoulders. In the eleven songs featured on this LP, she never shies away from the opportunity to season her melodies with a dash of unpredictability, particularly when it comes to serenading us with impossibly smooth vocal harmonies amidst seemingly stoic backdrops, and while I would like to hear her try out some bluesier material in the future (mostly because of how soulful her performance is here), there isn’t a single thing that I would change about this tracklist. No album is perfect, but if it’s erudite songwriting from a singer who can move mountains with her voice, Standing on the Shoulders comes pretty close in my book.