B.B. Cole’s improbable rise from Central European obscurity to one of the country music’s best pure singer/songwriters to hit in some time is one of the genre’s 2022 highlights. Her debut collection Outgrowing Ourselves has the enviable trait of packing all the unvarnished promise of a first release with the style, maturity, and unquestioned confidence of a veteran performer. It’s an illusion, but a telling mirage.
She didn’t make the decision to begin writing songs and pursue this path until the ripe old(?) age of 35. The depth and stylistic command of her songwriting has exploded in four years, and you can’t help but assume her life experiences supplied her with the necessary accelerant. Yet there’s a crackling vitality in each of the album’s nine tracks, even the slower numbers, that’s the sound of a damn the torpedoes joy for performing.
It comes across in the opener “She Gave Me Feathers”. Cole writes about her life without ever sinking into the morbid self-reflection that undoes so many artists and her ear for crafting the lyric to suit the arrangement. I’m a big fan of the way these songs are built – they highlight Cole’s voice without ever giving the music short shrift. “She Gave Me Feathers” pairs a classic country twang with her voice.
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Her propensity for arranging that intermittently pulls back on the instruments and puts her voice center-stage continues during “Demons”. It helps frame one of the album’s brightest moments, an unabashed ode to the better angels of her nature’s opposite numbers. Her winning and relaxed honesty is quite unlike anything else I’ve heard in modern country music – thank god. There are a handful of occasions when the song seems to threaten turning into something more but does not. That thin undercurrent of tension is valuable.
“Some Kind of Religion” is another peak. It has a more rustic and intimate musical character than other tracks on the release and the faint echo applied to her voice makes a difference. Her attempts at establishing atmospherics are always tasteful. It has an almost folky-feel in the way she uses guitar, but the country roots are as deep and strong as ever. “When I Was a Little Girl” opens like a race car revving in the blocks before the starting gun hits. She mixes passages punctuated with a handful of guitar led rave-ups alongside a brisk shuffle that sounds familiar without ever feeling tired.
Listen to Outgrowing Ourselves on Spotify. B.B. Cole · Album · 2022 · 9 songs.
What a finale “Tears + Fears” is. I wasn’t prepared for the approach she takes with this final song and I’m not going to spoil it for listeners. Suffice to say, if you enjoy B.B. Cole and her talents up to this point, the ending will be a special thing that lingers in your mind long after it ends. Outgrowing Ourselves is an unassuming release in many ways, but stand back a little from this album, take a long time listening, and you get some perspective on what she’s achieved here. Rarely has anyone hit the ground running like B.B. Cole’s Outgrowing Ourselves.