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Catie Curtis plays 7:30 p.m. Friday at Sacred Heart Music Center, 201 W. Fourth St., Duluth.

CD review: Curtis' writing resonates with her audience

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There's a wisdom in Catie Curtis' newest release, "Stretch Limousine on Fire," that rises above the myopic banalities of so many other recent releases by so many other, often very gifted, singer-songwriters.

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Maybe it's maturity -- Curtis is a veteran with a solid 20-year career -- but her writing seems to home in (with an eagle eye) on things that really matter in her life and that resonate with her audience.

Curtis always has been one of the very best of the Boston-area singer-

songwriters and she stands out among the heavyweight company of Dar Williams, Bill Morrisey, Ellis Paul and so many others.

The signature of Boston writers has seemed to be a certain higher level of

literate-ness to the work, and Curtis is a shining example.

Topics under consideration on this new disc include marriage and family, the inevitability of death, taking time to smell the roses, childhood memories and looking into the unknown. They are all examined with Curtis' keen and musical eye and her unique sense of humor.

"Stretch Limousine on Fire," Curtis' 11th release, was recorded in Los Angeles with Ray LaMontagne's Pariah Dogs rhythm section of bassist Jennifer Cordos and drummer Jay Bellerose, who really provide the disc with forward movement that supports the material to the max. Mary Chapin Carpenter and Lisa Loeb help with harmonies, and A-list studio players such as guitarist Duke Levine and keyboardist Julie Wolf bring this Curtis batch of songs to life. Producer Lorne Entress is the glue that holds the whole package together and helps make this an exceptional project.

The title track came from a moment stuck in traffic on the 405. Curtis sees a burning limousine from a safe vantage and realizes, "I guess everybody has those days, even when they got it good." There's a sing-songy feel to the music bed and Curtis sings with a certain degree of levity, but there's a deep undercurrent of delicious cynicism that runs parallel and gives the track added muscle.

"Highway del Sol" begins gently but builds into a churning inferno as Curtis rides above the musical firmament and wonders about life's mysteries and unexpected turns: "There ain't a thing under the sun that will not shake and change, like time will change your face."

"River Wide" is a piano-driven ballad that has Curtis exploring childhood nostalgia and an artist's desire to develop and create with metaphors like "baby birds up in the trees trying to learn to sing, falling to the ground before they found their wings."

"After Hours" chronicles the death of a close friend through a last chance to dine together. Through her writing, you just know that Curtis is someone you'd like to have for a friend. She has an innate ability to be sympathetic and understanding without being schmaltzy, and to provide that dash of wisdom when it's most needed.

She's a Lilith Fair alum and a songwriter whom the New Yorker dubbed a "folk goddess." "Stretch Limousine on Fire" is an outstanding new release and proves that Catie Curtis is simply one of the very best singer-songwriters out there.

Catie Curtis / "Stretch Limousine on Fire"

Genre: Singer-songwriter/pop

Recorded at: Stampede Origin Studio (Los Angeles)

Label: Compass Records

Produced by: Lorne Entress

Website: www.catiecurtis.com

Personnel: Catie Curtis (vocals, acoustic guitar), Thomas Juliano (guitar), Duke Levine (guitar), Lorne Entress (keyboards, drums, percussion), Jennifer Condos (bass), Jay Bellerose (drums), Julie Wolf (keyboards), Mary Chapin Carpenter (vocals), Lisa Loeb (vocals), Jenna Lindbo (vocals)

Upcoming gig: Plays 7:30 p.m. Friday at Sacred Heart Music Center, 201 W. Fourth St., Duluth. (218) 723-1895. www.sacredheartmusic.org

John Ziegler has worked in the music industry for 37 years as a radio host, interviewer, record producer and professional musician.

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