Although she is categorized as a leading artist of women's music, Cris Williamson has always had a Western sensibility that she comes by honestly, having been born in South Dakota and raised in Colorado and Wyoming. Fringe may be her most complete expression of that heritage. The songs concern the lives of women Williamson prefers to call "cowboy-girls," the term "cowgirl" apparently being unacceptable. The first of them is "Alazan," who leads off the album, "a real tophand," and she is followed by other frontier women such as the main character of "Big Seed Catalog," who braves a snowstorm to ride into town and get the book that will give her promise of the spring. There seems to be plenty of time to read on the range, as "Murder of Crows" is partly inspired by Wallace Stevens' famous poem "13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," and "Tumbleweed" tells of a woman whose encounter with a Bookmobile introduces her to Louis l'Amour's Conagher, leading her to copy the book's main character and tie messages to tumbleweeds in search of company. Companionship often seems to be lacking in these songs, except for "Glass of Rose," the story of a mail-order bride who gives birth to another cowboy-girl. But what's really needed is a good horse, as becomes clear in "One Wing Through the Wall" and the traditional "Goodbye Old Paint." Fringe is thus a concept album of women's lives in the American West. It isn't one of Williamson's more personal efforts, but it is an engaging work of craftsmanship from a songwriting veteran who knows the setting well.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann