CAROLYN MARK: Nothing Is Free [Mint]

For years, Carolyn Mark played a sort of wise-cracking truck-stop-waitress character in the alt-country world. Over the course of four solo albums and as half of the Corn Sisters (along with Neko Case), Mark kept herself hidden behind sassy one-liners and wry observations on other people’s lives. Like hillbilly singer Rose Maddox, she has the bark to back up that bite: a magnificent voice that slides from honeyed purr to throaty torch-song belting. For fifth album Nothing Is Free, Mark strips away the cheekiness and shines a bright beam on emotions hidden under her bed. On “Pictures At 5,” she examines a moment when she let a lover get too close, and “Pink Moon And All The Ladies” reminds us to run if we meet true love. When she sings “Home just gets farther away/The closer you get” on the graceful “Happy 2B Flying Away,” we glimpse a perennial drifter who is simultaneously mourning her lack of roots and yearning to be free. Guitarist Paul Rigby (Neko Case), bassist Paul Pigat (Cousin Harley) and violinist Diona Davies (Po’Girl) provide sparkling backdrops for these intense musings. By the end of Nothing Is Free, Mark seems less like a cartoon character and more like a friend willing to confide her secrets. []

—Tizzy Asher