Vivian Linden
"Watch the Light Fade"

(Tarnished Records 2006)Vivian Linden - Watch the Light Fade

Pity the fool who'd think of murdering Vivian Linden: with a voice like hers, she's bound to come back as a ghost and haunt you. Linden's instrument is reminiscent of Cat Power, Hope Sandoval, and Margo Timmons (of Cowboy Junkies), equal parts cracked and crystalline, gravel and gold dust, the kind you'd expect to hear drifting across the desert at sunset. Judging by the title of her debut album, "Watch the Light Fade," and the dead flowers decorating its cover, Linden is fully aware of her gift, and employs to exquisite effect.

"Pass the Wires" starts the album off with one snakeskin boot in the grave. A choir of steel guitars cry for the singer as she moans "release me, set me free / this life has not been kind to me." The mood lightens from blackest morbidity to dark-gray heartache on "I Fall To You," a song that Patsy Cline might have sound checked with on her most lonesome night on the road. With its clattering trucker beat, "Bewitched" is perky in a witches-dancing-round-the-fire sort of way, its protagonist praising the devilish charms of a lover from whom she ought to "run like Hell." From there it's back to slow country ambience and tearful folk songs, briefly interrupted by a distant angel's trumpet on "Going Back to Houston."

For all its delicate beauty, "Watch the Light Fade" is not without flaws. Its recorded-in-a-canyon production style has become a cliché for albums by female alt-country singers with ethereal voices. Also, Linden's lyrics are too often saved by the Vincent Price Effect. Just as Price made the hokiest horror-movie dialog scary by uttering it in a bone-chilling rasp, Linden gets away with lines like "you have bewitched me / I am under your spell" and "I am the moth / you are the flame" by delivering them in a tone that would make a grocery list sound heartbreaking.

Still, that's hardly a complaint. That Linden (successfully) makes up for her shortcomings as a songwriter with her talent as a singer simply means that "Watch the Light Fade" is a very good album, rather than a great one. Even if the songs don't haunt you after it stops, "Watch the Light Fade" sounds plenty haunting while it's on.

B+

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