Muth was born and raised in Seattle and grew up listening to rock & roll and watching MTV. While investigating the history of the labor movement for a high school project, she discovered protest songs and Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. She'd been writing songs about hard times and tribulations since she first picked up a guitar, but never showed them to anybody. Discovering folk, then country music let her know she wasn't alone in her fascination with life's darker side. She found four like-minded souls and started playing gigs as Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers. Her first eponymous collection got raves from critics for its tough but tender sound, and won them stage space at the No Depression and Bumbershoot festivals. Starlight Hotel keeps the promise of the first album with ten more gems that often sound like they're channeling the sound of an Nashville AM station, circa 1966. The album-opener "I've Been Gone" tips its hat to Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" with a ragged cowboy rhythm, a lonely mariachi trumpet line, and Dave Harmonson's icy pedal steel complementing Muth's declaration of true love. It's one of the album's few happy moments. For most of the selections, Muth does what she's best at, delineating the pain of missed connections and the many ways love can go wrong. Pedal steel introduces "If I Can't Trust You with a Quarter (How Can I Trust You with My Heart)," a midtempo, honky tonk rocker with a wry twist. When her prospective hook-up borrows a quarter, he doesn't play any country songs on the jukebox and romance goes down the tubes, along with her laundry money. "Come Inside" is a country rocker, but the jaunty beat belies the desperation of the singer's situation, a single mom with a predilection for loners and losers. Muth's vocal is finely balanced between hope and resignation as she describes her protagonist's attraction for yet another man who's bound to love her and leave her. The Lost High Rollers are sharp musicians, contributing subtle arrangements that keep the spotlight on Muth's soulful forlorn vocals.
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AllMusic Review by j. poet