models, Iris DeMent. These comparisons might get you in the door when Muth appears at the Ark on July 7, but they're not the whole story or even its main part. Muth isn't really trying to re-create anything, and she's using musical models from the past in a whole new way.
The attraction of the classic country song of the 1950s and 1960s lies partly in its compactness, its success in infusing real feeling into simple patterns of verse, bridge, and chorus, rarely more than three minutes long in all. Muth's songs, by contrast, start at three-and-a-half minutes and run up to seven or eight. Often they announce their subject matter with a plain, almost trite image and then fill out, in some detail, the space it creates. Many of Muth's songs are short stories written in the language of country music.
"New Mexico," from Muth's fine new album, Starlight Hotel, is a portrait of a young woman waiting tables, on the run from a failed relationship. Stanzas accompanied by a slow shuffle beat and a pair of acoustic guitars offer a leisurely, rather hypnotic picture of her life, but her emotions intensify at an impressively controlled pace as the song develops. "I don't want to be slavin' my life away if it's just to pay for all the things that I never knew quite how to say," Muth's narrator sings. Many of her lines are like that: not fitting into fixed rhyme schemes but spinning out a long sentence with simple words and internal rhymes. The song concludes with this: "Dirty old blackbird landed on my window sill. I didn't want him to leave, so I sat there, watching him, perfectly still. And when he finally flew ... I asked him to put a hole in the morning sky that I could pass right on through."