Kathy Muir’s third album doesn’t find her negioating her way through some major change in direction or style. Instead, Second Life is eleven songs of consolidation. The style she has established with her first two albums is further refined here and her singer/songwriter bonafides are burnished further by the obvious personal turn in the writing. Second Life’s production and songwriting also hints at a gradually broadening of Muir’s sound – the classification of Americana music is growing harder and harder for Muir’s releases to maintain and she seems to be subsuming a variety of styles into her sound. The lyrical content has exceptional literary value – each text is perfectly conceived and Muir expresses herself in words with the same lean vitality energizing her music.
“Lucky One” has a number of emotional stances and some underrated moments of bite. Muir’s vocal never becomes overwrought at any of these turns and she orchestrates the competing emotions with a sure hand. The song has the sort of steadily mounting tension we associate with rock tracks. This quality is present on the album’s second song as well. Muir cuts loose vocally a little more than before on “Better Man”, but it still avoids lapsing into anything melodramatic or purple. A big reason why such a moment never comes is thanks to Muir’s lyrics – few songs on Second Life embody her precise writing style better. Her warm, welcoming vocal on “Honey Child” has a practically hypnotic quality. It’s the depth of emotion that’s soothing and the guitar work complements it perfectly with a number of subtly lyrical runs. “Stop Messin’ Me Around” jumps with genuine live, musicians on the floor feel and the bluesy echoes fueling the track are a welcome shift at this point.
The violin and guitar arrangement of “Born by the Water” is deceptively simple, but it has flashes of ingenuity and one of the album’s best lyrics. Muir’s voice follows the emotional trajectory of the lyrics with an eye towards balancing her performance in perfect sympathy with the band’s playing. There’s a surprising rock and roll energy peering its way from below the acoustic musings of “Never Felt Like a Woman” and it might help make the track the album’s high point in many ways. There’s a very folky quality to “Like Warriors” that Muir makes the most of with a gloriously sweeping vocal full of feeling and the careful phrasing that brings her lyrics more to the fore. The title song concludes Second Life on quite a memorable note. Muir’s voice works exceptionally well with the song’s classical backing track despite the fact that the production clearly places a priority on her voice. It’s one of her best vocals, however, and the song’s lyrical turns are particularly affecting.