Cindy Bullens

Dream #29

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Rocking singer/songwriter Cindy Bullens' sixth release is her first on an indie label and, maybe because of that, it's a bit tougher-edged than her last few albums. Her dark, husky voice has become even more expressive as she veers toward Lucinda Williams territory, at least vocally. The opening tunes take listeners on a moody, swampy ride until the Stonesy "Box of Broken Hearts" kicks things into higher gear. Elton John, for whom Bullens used to sing background vocals, contributes high-profile boogie-woogie piano to the title track, a tune that shades a little too closely to Bowie's "The Jean Genie" in terms of its bumpy rhythm but succeeds nonetheless. Bullens' voice falls between Mary Chapin Carpenter and Williams with nods to Steve Earle in the way she phrases her words. Major-league baseball pitcher and friend Tim Wakefield contributes harmony vocals to "7 Days," and acquits himself remarkably well. Much better, though, is Delbert McClinton on the following "This Ain't Love," a gutsy, snarling duet that crackles like a slow-burning fuse and features some electrifying Little Walter-styled harmonica from Bullens. E Street Band bassist and fellow Nashville resident Garry Tallent brings a bit of Springsteen to the proceedings, especially in the thunderous "Born in the U.S.A."-styled opening to "Love Letter from Las Vegas," the album's most strident track that also takes cues from Steve Earle. Guitarist George Marinelli, on loan from Bonnie Raitt's band, is also impressive throughout. He contributes ringing, strummy electric guitar licks and tightly compacted leads that perfectly define each tune. Every track rings out with honest, heartland rock & roll, even the dusky, wiry ballads such as "Paper & Glass" that nearly dominate the album. Bullens writes rugged, unpretentious lyrics that find homes in songs of subtle power and candor. That makes Dream #29 a highlight of her small but impressive catalog of comeback releases that started with 1999's terrific Somewhere Between Heaven & Earth.

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