Singer/songwriter Audra Mae is the great grandniece of Judy Garland on her mother's side and grew up listing to country music and jazz. She left her Oklahoma home for Los Angeles in 2004, determined to make it big. After relocating, she signed a publishing agreement with Warner Chappell, got a record deal, and placed a cover of Dylan's "Forever Young" on the soundtrack for the FX series Sons of Anarchy. In 2009, "Who I Was Born to Be," a song she co-wrote with the Swedish group Play Production, was included on Britain's Got Talent winner Susan Boyle's nine-million-units-sold debut I Dreamed a Dream. She also wrote "Good News," the title track of German pop star Lene's second album. Mae's songs are a winning combination of pop and Americana influences: rock, blues, country, and folk. The album opens with the title track, a sunny, uptempo tune driven by twangy guitar and Steve Sidelnyk's Latin-flavored backbeat. Mae's exuberant vocals make it the album's brightest track, although the lyric hints at the darkness that permeates the rest of the record. "Sullivan's Letter" is a grim funereal tune, the last letter home written by a soldier who is about to die at the Battle of Bull Run. Mae's emotive vocal gives Sullivan Ballou's promise of eternal love a perfect balance of tragedy and hopefulness. A bit of reverb is added to her vocals on the bluesy "Snake Bite," a sinister tale of addiction delivered in an offhand way that makes the lyrics even more chilling. "Bandita" brings to mind a traditional Appalachian lament with its Celtic drone and Mae's raw, emotional singing. "The River" is a subdued folk-rock tune with an implication of suicide and incest, another journey to the dark side made compelling by Mae's understated vocal. The songs on Happiest Lamb are mostly forlorn, but Mae's clean, clear alto and the stripped-down, mostly acoustic arrangements, keep things from getting too grim.
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AllMusic Review by j. poet