Glenna Bell

Perfectly Legal: Songs Of Sex, Love And Murder

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It may be tempting to dub Glenna Bell the distaff Terry Allen -- after all, she is a Texan country-folk singer/songwriter with a wry, satirical bent who has also worked in theater -- but that comparison would be too easy, and not entirely accurate. While Allen is a songsmith who happened to wander into theatrical work, Bell's trajectory seems to have been the opposite; though she's released a number of albums, she has a past as a playwright and a theater critic, which seems to inform her songwriting sensibility (this release is, after all, dedicated to "my mentor, Edward Albee"). Toward that end, she has framed sections of Perfectly Legal as "Acts." As is so often the case with concept albums, the thematic arc means as much or as little as you want it to mean. Ultimately, what matters is how well the songs themselves stand up, and the covers and original tunes contained here hold their own just fine. At eight songs clocking in under a half hour, Perfectly Legal pushes the technical definition of an "album," as opposed to an EP, but the dramatic arc to which it aspires has "full-length" written all over it nevertheless. In the course of that arc, listeners get Bell's versions of such tunes as the traditional "Frankie and Johnny" and the old Sam Cooke cut "Lost and Lookin'," delivered in a dusty, evocative tone that brings Rosalie Sorrels to mind. The Texan's own tunes range from the rolling, atmospheric "Hurricane"'s tale of a stormy romance to the stark storytelling of "The Southern Gothic Wedding Waltz" and the lighthearted, randy "The Cougar Anthem," with only the latter failing to add to the atmosphere of this Americana set piece.

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