Clock Without Hands is Nanci Griffith's first recording of original material since 1997's Blue Roses From the Moon, leading to high expectations by fans and critics. These expectations, however, are also tinged by the disappointment -- by many -- of 1999's The Dust Bowl Symphony, a pseudo-best-of backed by an orchestra's strings. Clock Without Hands' catchy title track, propelled forward by steady percussion and insistent acoustic guitar, seems, on the surface, to get things off to a good start. But something isn't quite right. The production is a bit too bright and the lyric's metaphor is overextended. "Traveling Through This Part of You," the second cut, sends out other mixed signals: the production, with background strings, varies greatly from the first track. In fact, the changing production from track to track reminds one of a greatest-hits package. This song, along with "Roses on the 4th of July," also attempts to come to grips with the sacrifices that Vietnam War veterans made for their country. While this impulse is admirable, lines like "He still sends her roses on the Forth of July," combining love with patriotic sacrifice, come across as cloying. Two other tunes should be mentioned. On "Shaking Out the Snow" Griffith delivers an agonized vocal, and one's response to it -- that she overreaches or perfectly captures the mood -- will depend on whether one buys the tortured lyric. The album ends with a cover of -- don't even try to guess -- "In the Wee Small Hours," complete with a syrupy string arrangement, once again recalling The Dust Bowl Symphonies. There are a number of things to like about Clock Without Hands, and the album will undoubtedly grow on listeners, but the album lacks the consistency of even a less than great album like Flyer. Fans will definitely want to pay the ticket for admission to find out what Griffith's been up to lately; the unfamiliar, few though they be, should turn to older titles like Once in a Very Blue Moon and Last of the True Believers.
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AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.