Record Review 

The Coming Grass of Portland, Maine, are known to pump out sturdy alt-countryisms, but here, as a support group for their own Sara Cox, they pull back to make an intimate sitting room album that reveals a songwriter's subtle hand. Everyone finds and loses love, but writers polish their lowest moments with the poise of tragedy. Over the years, perhaps in response to the music industry consistently shunning them, songwriters have sought smaller worlds where sorrow settles into shades of gray. As a result, songs are tougher to access: Melodies cling to a few comfortable notes and arrangements remain minimal, while lyrics speak in personal tongues.

That said, codes eventually broken reveal rich texture. Arrive is Cox's solo debut and it plays like a quiet, unassuming song cycle about people stuck with their lives. The girl waiting for the phone to ring on the album's opener, "The Milk Song," is the same damsel in existential limbo on "Confession #87." She'll eventually find the car keys, but by then will have forgotten where she's going.

Cox's a cappella cover of Richard Buckner's "Fater" captures the lament's timeless doom and points up inevitable comparisons to Gillian Welch, with whom she shares more than a few quivering phrasing tics. Even the optimism of the album's closing title track sounds carefully measured in its glee.

Then again, that's tradition calling: Who writes folk songs about better days? And what struggling troubadour would have such blind faith as to believe those days come without serious strings attached?


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