Sessions From The 17th Ward is a live album, but don’t let that scare you off. This private show, recorded at St. Elias Church in Brooklyn, transfers very well to audio-only format. It’s a tight set-up—songwriter Amber Rubarth provides vocals and guitar, backed by cello (Dave Eggar), violin (Tim Snider), and light percussion (Chuck Palmer). This modest setting is the perfect environment for Rubarth’s performance to shine through.

Her voice is gentle and unassuming, and her songs follow on a similarly comforting path. She’s got her fair share of heartbreak here, but any and all personal woes come from an honest and understanding narrator (as opposed to self-indulgent catharsis). Along the way, songs are also interspersed with brief instrumental interludes that both build mood and add breathing space. My favorite tracks are “Washing Day,” the sparkling early morning ode to love and laundry, the swinging night-walk of “Full Moon In Paris,” and the simple and sweet “Darkest Dark, Brightest Bright.” Not every tune makes such an impression as these, but as a whole, the album is more placid than sedated.

The beguiling delicacy of Rubarth’s voice is especially apparent in her reverent takes on the work of Tom Waits, Louis Armstrong, Bob Dylan, and The Carter Family. These covers meld seamlessly with Rubarth’s original material, playing an important role in the cohesiveness of the album. Waits’ “Hold On” opens the set, and The Carter Family’s “Storms Are On The Ocean” ends it, both almost lullabies, solidifying the thread that carries the essential message of perseverance.

Sessions From The 17th Ward is a well-spaced and clean recording. It serves as a perfect showcase for Rubarth’s musical personality while retaining the vigor and playfulness of a live performance.

In A Word: Soothing

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