Over two full-lengths and one EP, Nashville's Caroline Spence has shown an uncanny knack for portraying the complexities of the human condition in poetically candid little vignettes of warm and weary Americana. Her second LP, 2017's Spades & Roses, earned enough respect and critical acclaim to net her a deal with Rounder Records, the veteran roots-driven label behind her third outing, Mint Condition. Produced by Dan Knobler (Lake Street Dive, Erin Rae), the 11-track set takes no great stylistic leaps, but offers a continued evolution of the journey Spence has been on since she debuted back in 2013. Her strengths as a storyteller play out over 11 well-crafted songs that alternately explore her own personal introspections or the twisting paths of those around her. As a songwriter, people remain Spence's ultimate source of inspiration, a trait she confesses to on the early standout "Song About a City," which name-drops various destinations along her route which she could never manage to immortalize in song. It's a clever little hook, though she's generally more prone to poignant observations like on the moving "Sometimes a Woman Is and Island" or "Sit Here and Love Me." Most of Mint Condition rolls by in an easy flow of gently strummed midtempo balladry with appropriately atmospheric electric guitar and piano support, though there are a handful of country-driven rockers that quicken the pace here and there. Opener "What You Don't Know" growls along with a particularly enchanting dark-hued chorus while the tuneful "Long Haul" adds a lovely bit of jangling county-pop sensibility to the collection. Closing out the album is the contemplative title cut whose choruses are supported to great effect by the willowy voice of the great Emmylou Harris, an artist to which Spence has received occasional comparisons. As with her previous albums there's nothing showy here, just quality songwriting sung and arranged with a subtlety that suits it.
Mint Condition Review
by Timothy Monger