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Living Alone Is All I've Ever Done Well
244 · 30 September 99
Richard Thompson: Mock Tudor
I've been in real danger of giving up on folk music. I've been in real danger of giving up on everything that isn't obscure indie pop, frankly, not so much because I think Trembling Blue Stars are so great they obviate the need for Megadeth or Paula Cole or Plainsong, but just because there's so much to learn and pursue that it's perilously easy to let it absorb all my time and attention. I've abandoned my sporadic forays into classical music more or less entirely, for the time being, and I've picked up and put back down, in the last few months, a dozen or so new albums by folk musicians whose previous work I liked, but didn't love. My time has become too precious, the other piles too tall. I haven't been listening to folk radio, either, so the only new albums that creep into my life are the ones connected to people who earned my unqualified loyalty a while ago, by artists who have been recategorized, in my mind, from "folk" to simply "mine".
"Mine" is an odd genre, in that it includes some people who, if it were possible to unearn my devotion, would have done so some time ago. A graph of my specific affections for Richard Thompson records, in particular, would show a scattering of peaks through his years with Linda, a solid showing for 1988's Amnesia, an indecisive blur around 1991's Rumour and Sigh (I think "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" is one of the greatest folk songs I've been alive for, but I also find half of the album nearly intolerable), and an uninterrupted plunge thereafter. The two or three songs I liked on Mirror Blue seemed like retreads of earlier songs I liked better, I have no personal memory of you? me? us? beyond the fact that it had two CDs, and Industry, his collaboration with bassist Danny Thompson, has been filed in my head with only the single keyword "competent". But how readily I forget the last few albums just means that when I think of him, I still think of "When I Get to the Border", "The Calvary Cross", "Walking on a Wire", "Turning of the Tide", "Yankee, Go Home", "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" and "From Galway to Graceland", and it takes no more than a second or two of deliberation to decide whether a new album by the author of those songs is worth hearing.
I try not to spend much time analyzing why I dislike music I dislike, a petty and unrewarding exercise, but the soul of my aversion to the recent Richard Thompson records has something to do with their acidity, with what seems like a relentless bitterness, as if his cynicism, once an energy source, has started consuming him from inside. Too many songs sound to me like they are delivered through sneers, not just sung that way, with an increasingly complacent and Dylanesque tendency to lapse flat, but even played that way, as if he's come to believe that melody amounts to condescension. His world is coherent, and depicted with skill, but it's not a world I care to see pictures of, much less inhabit. Half a song into Mock Tudor, though, I'm suddenly overcome by the sinking suspicion that I've misapplied blame, and that it was all really Mitchell Froom's fault. Froom produced Amnesia, too, but it isn't until Rumour and Sigh that I begin noticing the same signature production touches that overwhelmed the last two Suzanne Vega albums, for me, and prompted me to recoil from Froom's solo album with such velocity. I loved the American Music Club and Crowded House albums he produced, but I think I don't like him as a folk producer. He's an imaginative sound sculptor, but I don't really want Richard Thompson sculpted for me, any more than I want pictures of my parents "enhanced" using esoteric Photoshop filters. I want to see their faces, clearly. I want to remember how the people I love are, and were, and while snare drums that sound like basketballs being dribbled on the roof of Quonset huts are clever, and memorable in their own right, they are distractions where I want mnemonics. I just want Richard Thompson to sound like Richard Thompson. I have my cultivated preconceptions about what that means, of course, but I can't help that. I want this record to sound like a continuation of the career that Watching the Dark summarized, an extension of the continuum from Fairport Convention to I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight to "When the Spell Is Broken". I want to feel uprooted by songs that are at once harrowing exposures of human frailty and unassailable evidence that we are sometimes most nobly ourselves when we are itemizing our flaws. I want songs that leave me humming, not just cataloguing their misanthropy.
And so, even as Richard edges through a gallery of the lost as macabre as anything he's written, I'm smiling. "There's a house in an alley / In the squats and low rise / Of a town with no future, / But that's where my future lies", the album's opening verse grimly announces, but the song is irresistible, Celtic reel barely restraining the urge to erupt into gospel extravagance. You wouldn't have to speed "Sibella" up much to turn it into a power-pop cross between "House of the Rising Sun" and "Cold As Ice". "Bathsheba Smiles" sounds uncannily like a "Don't Stand So Close to Me" remake for which Neil Finn and Robert Pollard collaborated on a new chorus. "Two-Faced Love" evokes Gordon Lightfoot and Dire Straits, Judith Owen's quiet harmonies like a fading dream of Linda's once-comfortable presence, from before peace seemed insupportably naïve. "Hard on Me", all stomping drums and snarling guitar, melds rock electricity and folk composure with an aplomb I'm not sure anybody else ever mastered. Sparkling acoustic guitar paces the pensive "Uninhabited Man". "Dry My Tears and Move On" and "Walking the Long Miles Home" form a farewell-song diptych that could have been written a century ago. "Sights and Sounds of London Town" is even more timeless, Thompson's latest entry in the same line of buoyant traditional English folk-ballads as "1952 Vincent Black Lightning", except this time the song's characters are from our own century, a dilettante whore, a homeless failed DJ, a burned-out addict and an even-more-burned-out dealer. It's only in this bleak group-portrait's wake, though, that Thompson finally begins to wilt, the last two songs trickling away numbly. Save yourself; use your Stop button. Ten songs is plenty. Stop before eleven and this album doesn't drain away, like expiring hope, it dances out the exits as if a roll call of the city's victims is the most natural way to celebrate its power, as if their tiny, hapless life-stories are heartbreakingly uplifting, the idea that we manage to survive at all, crushed between asphalt and plexiglas, almost too poignant to face, and the tiniest details of each day's triumph or setback the elements out of which every higher emotion is formed.
Bruce Cockburn: Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu
Bruce Cockburn made a few albums that nearly lost me, too, but 1996's The Charity of Night won me back. Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu is essentially the same album, the same sounds and the same rhythms, a few different backing singers (here Lucinda Williams, Margo Timmins and Jonell Mosser, although Jonatha Brooke, Ani DiFranco and Sam Phillips also get cited as inspirations), but I find that in three years I've only become more sympathetic to Cockburn's meandering, unhurried manner, more willing to let him lead me on a tour through a terrain that never seems as navigable when I'm by myself. The cycling guitar and sly pop-culture asides of "When You Give It Away" vanish, through repetition, like Stilgoe described the slats of fences disappearing as you pass them at just the right bike speed. "Last Night of the World" is a sweetly defiant rejoinder to "Sights and Sounds of London Town", a contention that even if the structure of our prison existences imploded on us, we could survive it, and Bruce's dizzy four-syllable flutter on the last word of "If this were the last night of the world / What would I do?" is itself, to me, a wordless universe of counter-arguments. The album's pace sags a little in the middle, and I like Bruce's singing and cultural syntheses so much that deadpan single-genre instrumentals like "Down the Delta" always seem like missed opportunities, and his writing so much that the cover of "Blueberry Hill" feels weirdly tangential, but the album rallies again at the end, for me, with the half-spoken "Let the Bad Air Out" (like a less-industrial version of Dire Straits' "Industrial Disease"), the muted, resonant, atmospheric "Look How Far" (and how many other writers would have had Bruce's intuition that "Look how far the light came / To paint you this way" could be a friend's observation, not a lover's), the spare acoustic-guitar-and-bass duet "Deep Lake", and the effortlessly epic, globe-spanning finale, "Use Me While You Can", its music muttering and sighing less like a song built to contain the words than like this is just the noise that the wind makes, dismissing our maps and blowing through the artifacts of our superstitions, the grids and wires we string up to mark where we think, erroneously, we end and the context in which we exist begins.
Luka Bloom: Salty Heaven
Bruce Cockburn weaves himself into the fabric of nature by traveling, asserting the nearness of all faraway places by going there and sitting in their cafés, drinking whatever they drink there, to prove that his chemistry and theirs are compatible. Luka Bloom achieves the same union through stillness, letting his surroundings become so accustomed to his presence that they cease to regard him as autonomous. His 1994 album Turf, just him singing and playing guitar, seemed so perfect to me that I haven't brought myself to buy any of his older records, unable to imagine how adding other musicians wouldn't break the spell. I bought Salty Heaven as quickly as I could, trying to avoid learning anything about it that might dissuade me, and put it on without looking at the credits first, as if by not reading the names of cellists I could sustain the illusion that the cellos aren't there, or that the room just exudes their aura, like perfectly abandoned houses sometimes still smell of leaves and fresh bread. In the end, though, it's remarkable how little difference it makes. There are fourteen musicians on this album, including drums played by producer Peter Van Hooke and keyboards and string arrangements by Rod Argent, but Luka's warm voice and gentle guitar are just as central as they were when there was nothing else, the strings dancing against the backdrops like shadow projections of the movements of his fingers, the drums merely expanding on the cadences of his hands against the body of the guitar. For every mountain pass Bruce crosses, Luka knows a path that crests a hill too low to have a name, for every gasp at an exotic panorama he has a memorized glade from which the same sense of wonder can still be derived. Bruce's travelers are freest in movement, Luka's villagers most jailed when they are carried away from their homes. The anxious, dissatisfied scurrying of tourists has rarely seemed more tragic, futile, ironic and unnecessary than when I imagine, laying one century over another, Bruce's plane flying from Toronto towards Tibet, passing over the boat carrying Luka's expatriates from their Irish homes towards Nova Scotia. When we walk through towns, without understanding that they don't exist to amuse visitors, we mock our own empty homes, not just the strangers' houses the camcorder frames. When they build towns for us to photograph, when we build towns to be photographed, we mock the idea of towns, we condone the conversion of homelands into real estate that welcomes nobody. We wall ourselves out of our own hearts, and need these songs to remind us how to start over.
Todd Thibaud: Little Mystery
I hope by loving Bruce Cockburn and Luka Bloom's songs, effectively insinuating myself into their neighborhoods, I'm not part of the problem. But if so, or if the Y2K collapse cuts us all off from anything farther than a voice can carry, then Todd Thibaud lives here in Boston, and plays pretty often at the tiny bar around the corner from my house, and in the quiet that will descend on us when cars and computers and stereos declare their indenture ended and refuse to whir, I bet I could hear him from here. He sounds as Bostonian as Bloom sounds Irish, I think: closer to rock than folk, but so is the rest of this city; closer to Hootie and the Blowfish than Runrig, but so is America. The songs seem to me to have the same grace, to dream of the same imaginary consensuses. "Don't Save Me (It's Alright)" could be earnest Dan Bern, or a truce between Darden Smith and Velvet Crush. "Little Mystery" itself shimmers with guitar arpeggios and Hammond moans. "Anywhere" might be what Richard Buckner would sound like with more confidence. "Last Thing That I Need" and "Suppose" could both easily be Del Amitri, especially the falsetto chorus notes in the latter. The twangy "If That's Alright" might be the Bottle Rockets, the bouncy "Suffer Me" something like Son Volt playing Juice Newton. If everybody who bought Bush and Live records has grown weary of stridency, "Finding Out" could be their next theme song. "It's Only Me" sounds like a mournful, half-country "Cruel to Be Kind", "Never Really Lost" like Dylan updated by the Verve Pipe, the bare, acoustic "Total Stranger" (with a breathy duet between Todd and Merrie Amsterberg) a flawless folk song ready for Joan Baez or Emmylou Harris' next album. And the record ends with "Finer Things", implacable and sturdy, a slow rock song mainstream enough to make Tom Petty sound DIY. I'm not sure there's an experimental chord on this entire album, but as much as I cherish experiment, there's also a reason I shop at the Gap. This is comfort music, cozy music for enfolding, for recuperation, for reassurance. You could argue that there's no real shortage of songs like these, or of performers who embody the most well-worn tropes as if familiarity is the greatest virtue, but if the satellites all crash when the digits flip, and every neighborhood is forced to preserve the character of our culture using their own resources, then you better know who's going to sing songs like these for you.
Dan Bern: Smartie Mine
If we have only three months until society disintegrates, then singers who flaunt their irresponsibility like a cross between Ani DiFranco and Weird Al Yankovic may soon be a luxury we can't afford, and we better appreciate Dan Bern as best we can while we still have the chance. You'll need to be pretty good at appreciating Dan Bern for Smartie Mine, a double album originally sold only at concerts and from his web site, to not be a little more Dan Bern than you really want. I'm kind of surprised, actually, that it doesn't exceed my tolerance, as normally anything remotely describable as novelty music earns my concerted ire, and although Bern's brisk, incisive delivery is hardly Dr. Demento material, the twenty-seven songs here include an alternate version of his combination ode to Tiger Woods, testicles and performing oral sex on Madonna, the quasi-Costello-ish "City of Models", a song about Charles Manson's real last name, a confused serial-killer's monologue, a short sampler of drunken blues pastiches (including one about stalking (sort of) Bruce Springsteen), a tour-van diary with the irrational flair of a flu dream, a sequel to Don McLean's "Vincent " for Vincent Van Gogh's son Joe, a lover's quarrel phrased as an argument concerning the narrator's in-progress play about Bart Giamatti and Pete Rose, a song about sharing your name with a notorious murderer, and the eight-and-a-half minute finale, "True Revolutionaries", which manages to incorporate Timothy McVeigh, Mike Tyson, hereditary breast implants, Conan O'Brien, the bureaucratic fate of the monkey who typed Hamlet, Starbucks, shoe-company sponsorships and Y2K. Just adding all this up, it seems like Smartie Mine should turn out more like stand-up comedy than folk music, and I don't buy stand-up comedy records. But for me, at least, it doesn't. For every ostensible joke-song about celebrities there's one about real people, and even the celebrity songs are rarely glib. I wouldn't claim that Bern is a better writer than Dylan, but I find his performances of his own material far less trying than I do Dylan's. There's a lot of repetition in these songs, verse after verse with exactly the same music, but if you don't mind "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" or "Alice's Restaurant", that shouldn't be a problem. And yes, probably he could have edited these two discs down to one, but if you can't take two hours of Dan Bern, you probably can't take one hour, either.
Billy Bragg: Reaching to the Converted
The definition of folk has to be stretched a little to cover Billy Bragg, but compared to the gaps between Korn and Moby, or between Nine Inch Nails and Eagle-Eye Cherry, the differences between Richard Thompson, Bruce Cockburn, Dan Bern and Billy Bragg seem pretty subtle. This is more true of early Bragg songs than it is of the later albums when he started hiring musicians, but the new b-sides compilation, Reaching to the Converted, spans approximately his whole career. Some of the highlights from the band period are an alternate version of "Greetings to the New Brunette" on which all instruments are performed by Johnny Marr, the affectionate b-side "Sulk" (which Bragg recorded here in Boston the day before the last time I saw him play), a crisp single version of "Accident Waiting to Happen", a decidedly Smiths-like Marr composition called "The Boy Done Good" that Bragg equips with a rather extended relationship/football metaphor even by Bragg's football-tolerant standards, and the ebullient "Sexuality" b-side "Bad Penny". His transitional middle period is represented by a pretty cover of Anna McGarrigle's "Heart Like a Wheel" with Cara Tivey singing the duet part and playing piano, the elegant "Ontario, Quebec and Me", which I'd previously heard only in Mary Lou Lord's version, a "7 O'Clock News/Silent Night"-ish experiment that consists of Johnny Marr playing "Walk Away Renee" on acoustic guitar while Bragg recites an unrelated failed-relationship anecdote, the harmonium-lined lament "Rule Nor Reason", a ringing multi-guitar version of the anti-war anthem "Think Again", an unexpectedly plausible piano-ballad rendition of "Wishing the Days Away", and a shaky Tivey-assisted adaptation of the Beatles' "She's Leaving Home".
But while I love Don't Try This at Home dearly, the definitive Billy Bragg songs, for me, are always the old ones with just him and a cheap electric guitar, and this collection rescues five critical early songs from out-of-print obscurity. Two are the b-sides from the "Greetings to the New Brunette" single, the somber "The Tatler" and the marvelous, halting, original version of Bragg's cover of the Smiths' "Jeane", available in a much faster and angrier form on his Peel Sessions album. The three I'm most pleased to see given new life, though, are the ones from the between-albums EP Days Like These, one of the first three records I bought when I arrived in Cambridge fourteen years ago (the other two being Bragg's first two albums). "Days Like These" itself is a classic-Bragg political broadside, containing his hilariously percussive pronunciation of the word "dogma". "I Don't Need This Pressure Ron" is a baldly socialist a cappella number with two of Bragg's most artless passages, "'Money maketh man a Tory', / Don't fire that assumption at me. / I like toast as much as anyone, / But not for breakfast, lunch and tea" and "So don't saddle me with your ideals / And spare me all your guilt, / For a poet with all the answers / Has never yet been built", "guilt" and "built" both rendered as if the "l"s were "w"s. But I would have bought this collection if only to have a another copy of my favorite Billy Bragg song of all, "Scholarship Is the Enemy of Romance", which edges out "A New England" on the grounds that more than a decade after he pointed out the opposition, I still think the two things are equally contradictory and indispensable, and I can't think of any better way to both acknowledge and cope with this conundrum than to sing along.
Nanci Griffith: The Dust Bowl Symphony
Speaking of enmity, Nanci Griffith's The Dust Bowl Symphony is another in the regrettably long line of albums on which symphonies attempt to remake pop songs, either with or without the writer's participation. This seemed like a terrific idea when I was playing in my middle-school orchestra, but after quite a few modern adult examples, perhaps the only two I had much hope for being Symphonic Music of Yes and the Split Enz equivalent ENZSO, I've concluded that it basically doesn't work. Combining a symphony with Nanci Griffith's humble country/folk songs and her thin, reedy singing voice is an even worse idea than most, and picking the London Symphony Orchestra, of all people, makes this the setup for a massive cultural disaster.
What I failed to anticipate, however, is that The Dust Bowl Symphony is not an attempt to translate Nanci's songs into orchestra pieces, like the Yes and Split Enz records both were. Nanci and her band play on the album alongside the symphony, and various familiar guests drop in, including backing-vocal appearances by Beth Nielsen Chapman, Jennifer Kimball and Sonny Curtis, and a duet with Hootie and the Blowfish singer Darius Rucker. These versions actually are, I think, fundamentally playful and inspired attempts to imagine what Nanci's music would have been like if she'd come of age in a pastel, crinoline-lined, only-half-imaginary Brill/Bacharach past where Texas folk-songs featured tuxedoed orchestras and pop ambitions as a matter of course, the miles and years between Austin, Greenwich Village, Motown, London, Dublin and Memphis all collapsed. The results are mesmerizing, as if I'm finally hearing what happens when these songs are given the resources to fulfill their potential. "Trouble in the Fields", with a lilting whistle solo in addition to the massed strings, sounds to me like an American epic on par with the best of Aaron Copland. "The Wing and the Wheel" sounds like the greatest Muzak cover ever assembled, "These Days In an Open Book" like Guns N' Roses' "November Rain" somehow stripped of every trace of bombast. Rucker has sung on songs on both of Nanci's last two albums, but instead of redoing one of those they opt to turn her timeless small-town romance "Love at the Five and Dime" into a duet, an idea that in retrospect seems obvious. "It's a Hard Life Wherever You Go" swells as if it hopes to fill outer space, "Late Night Grande Hotel" and "Nobody's Angel" just sound more like themselves than ever, Buddy Holly's "Tell Me How" is treated with reverence and glee, and "Not My Way Home" gets a exquisite cello solo. And the one new song, "1937 Pre-War Kimball", with Beth Nielsen Chapman singing harmony and Glen D. Hardin playing piano, is a name-dropping tribute to peers and heroes, including Chapman, Hardin, Julie Gold, James Hooker, Harlan Howard, Jimmy Webb, Randy Newman, Jerry Lee Lewis and Al Jones. The air is dense and thrashed with spirits, as if angels are dog-fighting for the right to infuse these songs with rapture and dignity.
Linda Ronstadt & Emmylou Harris: Western Wall
I'm not enough of a Linda Ronstadt fan for an album she sings half of to mean as much to me as one Emmylou sings all of, but half of this album is more than Emmylou's third of the Harris/Ronstadt/Parton Trio albums, and I'll take what I can get. I never really bothered to distinguish between the individual songs on Trio II, but I find these developing their own identities much more readily. Andy Prieboy's resigned "Loving the Highway Man", with guitars by Ethan Johns, Greg Leisz and Andy Fairweather Low, falls somewhere between country and Eno/Lanois-era U2. Emmylou's "Raise the Dead", another benediction to influences (Hank Williams, Sam Cooke, Bill Monroe, Robert Johnson), is as close as this album comes to Wrecking Ball, but Jackson Browne's "For a Dancer", with Emmylou and Neil Young backing Linda up, ends up somewhere between Fleetwood Mac and Patty Smyth. Emmylou and Linda trade lines on Rosanne Cash's "Western Wall", but Emmylou takes the lead for David Olney's "1917", Kate & Anna McGarrigle returning one of Emmylou's favors by helping Linda out with the harmonies. Paul Kennerley plays on his own wiry, mid-tempo "He Was Mine", but Ethan Johns' minimal guitar and percussion are the only accompaniment for the clipped version of Emmylou and Jill Cunniff's "Sweet Spot". Johns brings in an Optigan to help turn Leonard Cohen's "Sisters of Mercy" into a period madrigal. Waves of electric guitar wash over a soaring, passionate production of Patty Griffin's "Falling Down". Patti Scialfa's "Valerie" is musically understated, but has perhaps Emmylou's most dramatic lead. The combination of Linda and Emmylou's voices sounds uncannily like Sinéad O'Connor on Sinéad's "This Is to Mother You". The McGarrigles sing on (and helped Emmylou write) the no-regret travelogue "All I Left Behind", and the record ends with one of its stranger ideas, Emmylou and Neil singing harmony for Linda doing Bruce Springsteen's "Across the Border". I'm not sure this album means much, really, and maybe I don't give either of the women album credit for making it, but I'd rather they did this than however else they could have spent a week in Tuscon.
Cindy Bullens: Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth
If there's an opposite to a casually-assembled album of duet covers, it might be Cindy Bullens' Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth. Bullens' last album came out in 1989. In 1996, her then-eleven-year-old daughter, Jessie, died of cancer. Grief turned into songs only gradually, but in 1997 Beth Nielsen Chapman's Sand and Water, largely about the process of rebuilding her life after the death of her husband, came out, and Beth leant Cindy friendship, inspiration and her producer, Rodney Crowell. Over the next couple years Cindy's project drew in Bonnie Raitt, Bryan Adams, Tony Berg, Steven Soles, Cindy's older daughter Reid, Benmont Tench, Bill Lloyd, Lucinda Williams, Bob Ludwig and Bob Clearmountain, and so here is Jessie's memorial, a rousing heartland folk-rock album of disconcerting honesty and deceptive strength, like a therapy session conducted by Springsteen and Melissa Etheridge. Be prepared, though, if the idea interests you. Sand and Water was a relatively oblique recovery album, one it was possible to listen to without being entirely conscious of the subject matter. Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth is far more blunt. "My youngest child is now an angel", "Boxing With God" unflinchingly explains. Sand and Water comes from a later stage than most of these songs, and where Beth was able to paint the glimmers of new hope, most of these songs are still struggling with loss, inventing mantras to see what consolation they might provide. "I can take some kind of comfort in / Knowing you're / In better hands", Cindy tries to convince herself in the driving "In Better Hands", a little like a Patty Larkin song that mutates into Don Henley. "Even the lights of Paris / Can't outshine your love", confesses "The Lights of Paris", not even bothering to qualify its despair. "I Gotta Believe in Something" (with Beth and Bonnie singing) is resolute, but "That there's just plain nothing / Don't seem right to me" isn't exactly a galvanizing formulation of faith. "Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth" (the duet with Bryan Adams) is the promise of deferred reunion, Cindy's version of Beth's "Beyond the Blue". "A Thousand Shades of Grey" moves like an anthem, encouraged by Mark Jordan's ringing piano and George Marinelli's writhing lead guitar, but the lyrics' closest approach to hope is an angry and skeptical "There must be some great reward / For lasting out each day". The harrowing "Water on the Moon" begs for new technology to somehow bring Jessie back. "Boxing With God" finds Jessie, Cindy and Cindy's father all facing the same battles, though, the first hint that grief might find another outlet, and although "The End of Wishful Thinking" isn't quite acceptance, it's at least a realization that acceptance is possible, and perhaps desirable. "As Long as You Love (Scarlet Wings)", with Reid singing the choruses, is a lullaby for all three of them. And "Better Than I've Ever Been" isn't Beth's "Happy Girl", either, and the actual line is "Maybe I'll be better than I've ever been", supposition in the future tense, not affirmation in the present. But it's a footfall on a road that might lead back, or, if not back, then somewhere new, someplace where you never recover from anything, and never even want to, but keep going anyway, keep living no matter what you lose. We can't give up on folk music, because giving up on folk music is giving up on people. We keep singing, whether the song is salvation or self-destruction, because the only other alternative is silence, and without noises there's nothing to ward off the dark, and no way to find each other in it.