Mint Condition is quite simply a gorgeous album. The third release from Nashville based Virginian Caroline Spence will further enhance her reputation as both a songwriter and a performer. This collection of eleven songs, following on from 2017’s excellent Spades and Roses, is emotional and varied. But what stands out most is Spence’s beautifully pure voice that somehow manages to combine a delicate fragility with inner strength and occasional bursts of controlled power.
Ten of the songs on the album are new, while its closing title track was actually written some years ago. It is told from the point of view of Spence’s grandmother, looking back on fifty years of marriage. As an expression of pure love it has a sweetness that almost doesn’t need the added bonus of harmony vocals from Emmylou Harris.
The standout tracks are the slow and folky ballads, where Spence’s vocals flow over minimal backing. Sit Here And Love Me is haunting and emotive, telling of the support that someone struggling with their mental health needs most: “I don’t need you to solve any problem at all, I just need to you sit here and love me.” The song is simple and profoundly honest, heartbreaking yet also portraying the comfort that a strong relationship can bring. Sometimes A Woman comes from a similar place, reminding us that looking good on the outside can disguise inner pain.
The superb Wait On The Wine is a slow country ballad where Dutch courage is needed before declaring love. Spence’s vocal performance is perfect, evoking a combination of love, anticipation and apprehension with exquisite skill. Another highlight is the road song Long Haul. Telling of life for a travelling musician it shows both the difficulties behind a seemingly glamorous life and the inner strength and resilience required to keep going, night after night, town after town.
But there are upbeat song here too. The album’s opener What You Don’t Know has a 90’s alt-rock feel with its bright guitar riffs and solid drum beat. Angels Or Los Angeles is also guitar based with a country rock feel and Song About A City shimmers along, its anthemic chorus one that you will find yourself singing hours after hearing.
Mint Condition is a fine album that has both superbly nuanced and insightful songwriting and a vocal performance that marks Caroline Spence as a high quality performer. A word too for the sympathetic production: the instrumentation provides excellent backing but never overwhelms, complementing that superb voice very well.
Caroline Spence will be back in the UK in October for a short tour. These new songs promise to be thrilling when played live
Release date: 3 May 2019
Label: Rounder Records