In an interesting move, Susan Cattaneo opens both discs on the double CD set ‘The Hammer & The Heart’ with the same song, the carpe diem Word Hard, Love Harder. On the first electric-led disc, The Hammer, she’s backed by The Bottle Rockets for an inevitable guitar ringing rocker. While, on the other, the acoustic-based The Heart, she’s accompanied by folk trio The Boxcar Lillies for a more bluegrassy string version with Jim Henry on dobro and mandolin.
Neither are fully representative of the remaining16 tracks, many of which lean to the bluesier side of the country fence. Back on disc 1, The River Always Wins has a tribal rhythm groove with Mark Erelli on lap steel on a song about the irresistible power of water in full flood as it “comes down from the mountain like judgement from on high.” Co-writer Bill Kirchen joins her on guitar on for a brace of contrasting numbers, the piano boogie In The Grooves with its nod to the rock n roll greats and dreamy piano ballad duet When Love Goes Right.
The Bottle Rockets return for the swaggering, amped up Lonely Be My Lover, a similar, but bluesier vibe informing the dobro rooted Does My Ring Burn Your Finger? While sandwiched in-between, she strips it right back for the slow burn southern blues of Dry, a duet with Dennis Brennan.
The first disc plays out in equally southern country blues mode with Ten Kinds of Trouble (another song with a lyrical nod to Elvis) and, Davy Knowles and Stu Kimball on guitars, Back Door Slam where, again with a tribal stomp rhythm, she sounds remarkably like Cher circa Gypsy, Tramps & Thieves.
As the title of the second disc suggests, this is a quieter, more reflective side of things, deftly embodied in things like the dreamy Ordinary Magic, a smoky Carriedand the simple aching acoustic Bitter Moon.
Elsewhere, Jennifer Kimball provides backing vocals on Smoke’s song about a commitment shy lover (“loving you is like catching smoke”), Everybody Cryin’ Mercyhas a slinky, jazzier gospel groove and co-writer Nancy Beaudette shares vocal duties for the post break-up memories of Fade To Blue.
It ends with something of a misfire as, joined by Todd Thibaud, she offers a pointlessly faithful cover of Space Oddity, but any reservations are more than dismissed with the standout Field of Stone. A powerful song about the dangers of hardening your heart, it begins with an image of small town communities being swept away by “eight rows of asphalt” before giving way to a tale of paternal abandonment and growing up with “my mother’s hands and heartache and my father’s need to run.” Double albums can often be an overindulgence with a surfeit of padding, but, a chance to show two sides to her musical sensibilities, this is well up there with the better ones.