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Susan Gibson: Chin Up (soso)

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Gibson’s got a clear, unpretentious voice with a character that’s reminiscent of Shawn Colvin, but it’s unremarkable.

Susan Gibson is not the best singer. She’s got a clear, unpretentious voice with a character that’s reminiscent of Shawn Colvin, but it’s unremarkable. What stands out about Gibson and her new album, Chin Up, is the songwriting.

And it should, considering Gibson made her mark as writer of “Wide Open Spaces,” which the Dixie Chicks turned into the best-selling country song of all time. But best selling doesn’t necessarily mean good, and fortunately, the songs on this album are better than that. The opening cut, “Anything to Keep from Crying,” covers familiar country song territory, the broken heart, but does it with straightforward honesty and without the usual histrionics, along with some downright clever lyrics like, “My smile is half a stiff upper lip.” “Clumsy Hands” is an unconventional love song that explains love between imperfect people (which is everyone) is never typical and sometimes a little dangerous.

There’s a confessional quality to a lot of the songs that requires little dressing up. The title song, “Chin Up,” is the last track on the album, and is for no good reason a hidden track. That almost makes it seem less important, but it’s probably one of the best songs on the album, about a kid who couldn’t pass the President’s Physical Fitness Test. Anyone who was picked last for teams in gym class will recognize themselves in the song, pretending “it’s just a firing squad” and “doing time behind the monkey bars.” When Gibson sings that she couldn’t carry her own weight, it’s clear she’s singing about more than just elementary school, but as a competent singer and an exceptional songwriter, Gibson handles the load just fine on this album.

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