Album review: 907Britt is pure folk

By Jeremia Schrock
Sun Star Reporter

My iTunes player displayed “Continental Divide,” the debut album of Alaskan singer/songwriter 907Britt (Britt Arnesen), as Alternative/Punk. That is a lie. Alternative/Punk is the Dresden Dolls, the White Stripes or Metric. The word “alternative” covers all manner of musical sin, but “Divide” is pure folk.

Continental Divide - 907Britt

Before I review “Divide,” a disclaimer: I am not a fan of American folk music. I don’t like country music. I also don’t care for spiritual music with Christian overtones unless it’s Robert Johnson twangin’ his guitar and singin’ ’bout what he would do if he had possession over judgment day. I am also not the world’s biggest fan of ambivalently chirpy singer/songwriters who drop phrases such as “You’re an organic locally grown carrot cooking in my moose meat stew.” That is a real line from “Maybe You,” the fifth track on “Divide.”

In addition to being a folk album, “Divide” is also an incredibly clean one.

A quote on 907Britt’s website said that “the world can be lewd and crude, but your daughter’s music doesn’t have to be.” While no one’s music has to be anything other then what the artist intends it to be, the cleanliness of 907Britt’s album makes it, at times, unapproachable. It feels too clean to be real.

This feat of cleanliness is impressive because it’s obvious that “Divide” is a very personal album for 907Britt. “Sing it Away,” where she sings about a teenage mother and the problems her family faces during a harsh winter, is almost too painful to endure. This is a positive. Any song that evokes such a response is doing its job.

It is also unabashedly spiritual. Spiritual in a way that only Alaskans are. According to a 2008 Pew Research Poll on religious beliefs, only 37 percent of Alaskans consider religion to be “very important” to them. The remaining 63 percent either care somewhat or not at all about their religious beliefs (or lack thereof). This mixture defines the album. On “Slightly Down,” she sings about how her mother is well aware of the fact that while life isn’t fair, there’s no point in worrying because “God’s grace is love [and] is always near.” While there is little overt mention to any particular deity or religion on the album, re-listening to the album after hearing “Slightly Down” gives “Divide” an oddly spiritual aftertaste.

907Britt’s guitar is what holds the album together. You could do away with her singing almost entirely and you would have an excellent collection of instrumentals. The largely guitar-driven “Driving Through the Cornfields” and the entirely instrumental “After the Rain” are incredibly easy on the ears. In fact, they are so pleasant that I am unashamed to say that I wish I could play them.

While “Continental Divide” is very folk/country, in both topic and style, I can’t help but enjoy Brian Hazard’s piano. Hazard’s piano sounds much like Leon Russel’s and it adds a nice sense of depth to not only the song “Continental Divide” but also “Cinderella.”

If you like American folk/country music with clean and straightforward lyrics, 907Britt is for you. Her guitar is reminiscent of Brandi Carlile’s, her songwriting is clear and her voice sounds almost like a Kate Bush gone country.

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