Melissa Swingle’s best songs play out like Faulknerian tales of ruin set to music. Hope Is a Thing With Feathers finds the Trailer Bride singer at her finest on the sepia-toned leadoff track “Silk Hope Road”. In a world-weary voice that suggests too many nights alone in an unlit farmhouse, Swingle presents us with a war widow who wears a frayed gingham dress and her dead lover’s army boots. She isn’t quite right in the head, which is why she spends her days mumbling to herself while wandering back roads past chicken shacks, catfish ponds and weeping willows. If the beauty of a record is measured by such imagery, Hope Is a Thing With Feathers qualifies as a southern-gothic stunner.
Musically, Trailer Bride’s fourth full-length outing has moments of sublime surrealism. The title track proves you don’t need a theremin when you’ve mastered the saw, while “Mach 1″ is dance-hall honky-tonk so incandescent, you can practically see the Christmas lights duct-taped to the wood paneling.
Mostly though, Trailer Bride keeps its country low-key and potato-sack simple. So while guitarist Tim Barnes creates a White Stripes-strength blues explosion on “Skinny White Girl”, the disc will sound best in the chill-out room of a battered old Airstream.
The brilliance of Hope Is a Thing With Feathers is that bookworms will get just as much out of the album as those for whom Pabst Blue Ribbon is a premium beer. Swingle has such a way with words that you can’t help think she’ll make a pretty good writer once she’s done with music. Check out “Vagabond Motel”, a track so impossibly downtrodden it would make Carla Bozulich wince. A song devoted to a thrashed one-channel CB radio, Mount Rushmore, and a truck with worn-out windshield wipers could easily come off as a Hee Haw punch line. On Hope Is A Thing With Feathers, it’s practically poetry.