folk in the '90s: it works

Only Our Shadows (King Ben)
Susi Wood

By Bill Ede

Louisvillian Susi Wood has put together a fine collection of self-penned and co-penned songs, with a couple of standards thrown in for good measure.

The title song portrays the unprotected nature of unadorned human existence, without the luxury of comfort, direction, or, necessarily, meaning. "We have only our shadows to cling to" echoes its desolate title line. "Where the River Flows" is a brilliant commentary on contemporary war, with emphasis on its cyclical nature and its utter disregard for human consequences. The song is truly a '90s protest song, with its "yellow ribbons" and missiles that "swoop like crows."

"Forever Ain't Forever" and "Keep You Satisfied" both concern themselves with the transient nature of modern-day relationships. The former pays admission to the existing obstacles "in these days and times, so full of broken hearts, broken lives," while the latter reveals an impassioned willingness on the part of the singer to surmount all such obstacles. "Yes, living in your love has opened up my eyes/I hope that I can keep you satisfied." "The Wild Man" is a tale of choices made, dreams followed, and loves left unexplored.

It's unlikely that certain existing versions of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" could ever really be improved upon, so the song's future will likely depend on people performing it for the sheer joy of it — the true mark of the folk song. Wood obviously loves the song, and certainly makes it her own here with her slowed down, sparse interpretation. Jean Ritchie's standard-in-process, "The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore," has a harder edge here than on previous recordings of the song. While both the Michelle Shocked and Norman Blake versions are more resigned in stance, more matter-of-fact in vocal style, Wood moves the song into the arena of moral outrage, giving the song an interesting, not unwelcome, new twist.

The cassette ends with "Borderline," a somewhat eerie song that invites a kind of holy mischief to help "shake things up." The song would seem equally at home in a seance moon, primal scream class, or revolution.

Wood's vocals are as powerful here as ever, and show her to be as worthy of big-label consideration as, perhaps, any other folk-based artist in the area — should that be a road she would wish to take. The songs hold up quite well, with those co-written with W.L. Smith having special appeal. She gets help on vocals and acoustic guitar from Shannon Lawson, a fine local performer in her own right, and on electric guitar and bass from local jazz guitar mainstay Tom Browning, who is showcased to good effect on the title cut and on "The Wild Man."