The spirit of Mary Oliver haunts True North, the fourth album by Nashville singer-songwriter Caroline Spence. Its opening observe is called after the late poet, who Spence invokes at its stirring climax: “I’ve been taking part in on the church of Mary Oliver/Yeah, I’m making an attempt to know myself and love all of her.” Later, on “There’s At all times Room,” she quotes Oliver’s “The Summer season Day”—“I do know I get one wild and valuable life,” she sings, resolving to persevere by means of grief and ache. Throughout her lifetime, Oliver’s poetry was typically underappreciated for its plainspoken accessibility and inspirational nature, however since her demise in 2019, extra critics have come to acknowledge its elemental energy. It’s a pure companion to Spence’s work, which is heat, inviting, and unfailingly human.
Spence’s preliminary breakthrough got here in 2013, when her track “Mint Situation” took the grand prize in American Songwriter’s annual lyric contest. (She’d finally document it because the title observe to her Rounder Information debut, with visitor vocals from Emmylou Harris.) Even then, at 23, Spence’s lyrics possessed an informal knowledge that would really feel like getting drinks with a well-read, Zenned-out good friend. On True North, she sings about embracing the current (“The Reward”), surrendering to like (“Scale These Partitions”), and taking massive dangers (“Icarus”) with a sageness that exhibits the affect of her literary heroes—Oliver, Walt Whitman, the Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön. She seems like somebody you’ll be able to belief.
A few of that credibility comes from her voice. Spence is a sturdy, unflappable singer. Her mild, Virginia-bred drawl by no means strains for a observe, however she’s cautious to go away slivers of vulnerability round its edges. Her vocal strains are thoughtfully thought-about and regularly catchy, however they’re seldom flashy. In moments the place lots of her contemporaries within the nation music world would possibly emphasize a key line by belting it out, Spence tends to attract again, leaving room for the listener to search out themselves within the lyric. “The Subsequent Good Time” is an ode to perseverance handed all the way down to Spence by her late grandmother, and she or he forwards its message to her listeners together with her signature understated grace: “When hassle finds you, you’ll be able to simply do what I do/Grit your enamel, get by means of it/And look ahead to the following good time.”
It’s considered one of a number of situations on the album the place her supply verges on a sort of folksy sprechgesang, reinforcing the track’s relaxed, familial sentiment. The sympathetic dynamic between Spence’s phrases and her singing provides True North a lot of its energy. A beautiful combine by producer Jordan Lehning cedes middle stage to Spence’s vocals—the layered preparations reveal themselves on repeated listens, however Lehning is aware of it’s Spence’s present, and he stands apart accordingly.