'High Seas': Trailer Bride

Album Review by PHILIP BRASOR At first listen, Melissa Swingle’s voice sounds like a joke: a fragile, sing-songy bleat that conjures up visions of anorexic country girls who write bad poetry between shifts at the local Krispy Kreme. She encourages this image on stage by wearing bright-colored shifts that enhance her tall, thin frame, and then tacks on a dime-store brooch for bad measure.

“High Seas,” the fourth album by Swingle’s band, Trailer Bride, isn’t as consistently entertaining as their last one, 1999’s “Whine de Lune,” but Swingle seems to have got over her ambition to be the hillbilly Sylvia Plath. Her songwriting has become more expressionistic but also less derivative. She’s her own person now, someone with a complete, albeit quirky, hold on reality. “Wake up, there’s so much to see,” she implores on the polka-perfect title cut. Simple pleasures are not only the best this miserable life has to offer, they are all this miserable life has to offer. The eponymous “outlaw ladies’ man” in “Jesco” is a cut above the other male inhabitants of his West Virginia town simply because he dances and they don’t.

Swingle’s North Carolina drawl remains intact, but she’s abandoned the exaggerations — those little broken notes that communicated her received notion of white-trash sensitivity. Consequently, her lyrics here are more personal and appealing. Comparing lust to an itch, with a list of suitable metaphors (poison ivy, chiggers, polyester) she switches simile midsong to “a little firefly who hangs around my porch light/that white-hot 60-watt vixen.” Even her awkward syntax, which used to sound affected, has become touching. “Under your spell I really don’t want to fall,” she gently croons. “All that is mine is thine.”

Swingle’s newfound musical maturity is aided considerably by the band’s pointed avoidance of rollicking cornpone cliches. She favors banjo as much as guitar, and the rhythm section of Daryl White and Brad Goolsby spend most of their time trying not to sound overtly rockish, but Scott Goolsby’s leads are almost perversely anti-Nashville. On “Wilderness” he complements the singer’s subdued yodeling with ghostly psychedelic effects that make the badlands “west of Texas” sound pretty forbidding. He augments the band’s innately satisfying melodic sense with much-needed atmosphere — but without sacrificing its appealing minimalism. Trailer Bride is the Talking Heads of alt country.