Two country-ish songs about love and separation: each feminist in its way, each also committed to the relationship, and insistent these are not exclusive.

In Laura Cantrell’s “Starry Skies” the lover is “under starry skies” while the singer stays at home “under city lights.” She acknowledges he (or it could be a she, there’s no pronoun in the song) is “on your own in the world tonight,” but also reminds him “there’s a promise you’re going to keep,” which is the promise he’s made to her. What I like about the song, besides the purity of Cantrell’s voice and the accordian/piano/dobro accents to the gently rolling melody, is the singers complete confidence. She and her lover are apart, but she repeatedly tells him (and us) that “it’s all right.” “I’ve got a wind in my sail tonight,” she sings: she’s alone but not depressed, she “dreams herself to sleep” rather than spending sleepless nights. She knows he’s coming back and she anticipates their imminent reunion. In the last verse she’s not even singing about him but herself, looking out the window and taking pleasure in what she sees, “the yellow moon in the windowpane/a glimpse of silver from a passing plane.” The people who stay behind continue to have a life, too, and it’s nice to have a song remark that.

The singer is the wandering one in Roseanne Cash’s “Modern Blue.” I liked Roseanne better when she was back in Nashville straining at country music’s genre conventions, rather than when she got total artistic freedom and became middle of the road and New Age-y: but ah, that voice! This song sounds like it could have come from that earlier time, it’s a country melody but the upfront guitar line by John Leventhal is more rock, and the organ fills are a nice surprise. The story here is a singer far from home–Barcelona, Paris, an island in the Northern Sea–thinking of the person she left behind back in Memphis (or, again, her, the song’s not specific). She’s enjoying her new experiences, “it feels so good” and “everything she has is twice what she knew,” but she knows there will come a time when she’ll “round the curve,” need someone to hold her hand. “There’s a million shades of modern blue,” she sings, a million ways to have your heart broken or to break hearts. So she articulates a credo to defend against that: “I keep my head down”–I do my work, I do what I have to do, whatever it is that’s propelled me out here in the world–but also “I keep my eyes on you,” which I interpret in the sense of keeping your eye on the ball, staying fixed on what long-range matters.

As the song ends, the singer is on a midnight train back to Memphis. My guess is she’ll leave again. Going and staying, presence and absence, reconciling the committments of love and the committments of the world: this isn’t something that’s ever fully resolved. Which is probably why there are so many songs about it.

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