When singer/songwriter Kim Richey and her road band toured in support of her adventurous -- though criminally underappreciated -- Chinese Boxes album in 2007 and 2008, they formed an intuitive, close musical bond. For 2010's Wreck Your Wheels, she chose to use this group in the studio, playing live in the same room (though the guitar amp was parked in the front seat of a Honda in another room). There are other musical elements added to these songs, but the predominantly loose, easy, relaxed feel in these songs undoubtedly owes to that strategy and Neilson Hubbard's natural-sounding production. What is immediately striking is the contrast to Chinese Boxes. On that set, Richey experimented with numerous elements of retro-pop production and a wide stylistic range. By contrast, the 11 songs here are rooted in basics: contemporary folk, blues, laid-back rock, and ghostly traces of country. Richey co-wrote these songs with friends new and old. A pair of the best, the shimmering acoustic ballad "Keys" and the album's lonesome closer "Word to the Wise," were collaborations with Boo Hewerdine. The beautifully simple folksy country of "In the Years to Come" was co-written with former Jayhawk Mark Olson; the easy, laid-back pop/rock of the title track was penned by Richey with Mando Saenz; and the hooky pop/rock groove of "Leaving 49" was written with Beth Rowley. As gentle as these songs are in presentation -- and though their lyric content is full of elegant sophistication and parsed phrasing -- the emotions they portray are complex, melancholy reflections on love, most of it failed. As an album, Wreck Your Wheels is a beautiful listen, but a reflective one as well: it requires the listener's attention to pick up on its subtleties; it is the carefully nuanced tension between melodies, arrangements, and lyrics that gives these songs their weight, even when presented in such a breezy fashion. While Wreck Your Wheels may not be an especially somber listen, it is a tempered one; protagonists flee love, or are left wanting. As Richey's catalog goes over the last 15 years, this is easily her most introspective offering. It is devoid of self-pity or complaint, but dwells in the admirable -- if difficult -- space of "seeing" things for what they are, allowing pain and disappointment their place in the human heart. These songs practice acceptance and lack any trace of anger or bitterness. Richey's melodies are as catchy as ever, allowing these lovely songs to breathe and resonate inside the listener long after the record ends.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek