Carrie Elkin's first album in six years, follow-up to 2011's twangy, pure country Call It My Garden, finds the Austin singer-songwriter in a much sparser, folk-gospel-sounding space. Titled in honor of her late father, a lifelong collector of little copper coins and whose passing informed the narrative woven throughout his daughter's sixth LP, The Penny Collector exists in the remarkable, forlorn stretch between life and death, equally funereal and filled with quiet joys. Opener "New Mexico," led by Elkin's enormous, melancholic voice and backed by guitar and minimal strings, serves as a fitting intro, imbued with wildlife imagery, marveling at the simple act of a beating heart, but still haunting. There are moments of Elkin's fuller, upbeat, bucolic sound ("Live Wire," "My Brother Said"), but she sounds best when leaving the instrumentation scarce, like on "And Then the Birds Came." The recurring motif of nature – the coyotes in the opener, the thrum of cicadas in "Albatross," the mountains of "Niagara" – has Elkin keenly building a backdrop of the minuscule, beautiful moments of being alive, against which her meditations on death are set.
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