Montpelier songwriter Patti Casey's fourth solo album, The Edge of Grace, delivers on much of the promise heard in her work with the Bluegrass Gospel Project. Of course, it's pretty tough to stand out in a band that boasts six other singers. Casey's latest also manages to surpass Just an Old Sweet Song -- last year's album of standards recorded with guitar wizard Paul Asbell. While that disc possessed plenty of charm, it didn't give her a chance to show off her considerable songwriting gifts. As a matter of fact, until this release, Casey's main claim to fame has been her singularly gorgeous voice. Now there's even more to celebrate.
The Edge of Grace boasts 13 originals custom-made for country divas, bluegrass bands, gospel quartets, a cappella choirs and even pop singers. "Another Lucky Day," a sweet torch song that Casey claims to have written many years ago, is one of the album's many highlights. "Deliver Me" is a late-night waltz, while "East of Asheville" is a love song composed for her little boy while she was on the road. "Where the Nails Were Thrown" -- written for Social Band's Vermont Composers Project -- is so catchy you'll be humming it for hours after the initial spin.
Although Casey is more than capable of singing all the lead parts, she enlists a few talented pals to lend their voices when harmonies are needed: Bluegrass Gospel Project's angel vocalist Taylor Armerding, bluegrass singer Moondi Klein, local singer-songwriter Colin McCaffrey and the legendary Pete Sutherland. Sutherland's powerful bass vocal on "It All Comes Down" is as convincingly "heavy" as a 300-pound street singer from Georgia.
The stellar contributions are not just vocal. Casey surrounds herself with fine musicians, such as Pat Donohue and Gary Raynor from Guy's All-Star Shoe Band of "Prairie Home Companion" fame, BGP mates Steve Light and Gene White, and central Vermont string genius Kristina Stykos. These players have plenty to offer, but they never eclipse Casey's warm voice and compelling songs.
From start to finish, The Edge of Grace is impressive -- it's already my top contender for local album of the year.
Casey performs solo, and with her band Bellatrix -- which includes Stykos and rising star Susannah Blachly -- at the Champlain Valley Folk Festival in Ferrisburgh this weekend.