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Amber Norgaard: Long Way Home (Fireweed) 

On her fourth release, Amber Norgaard shows a depth and maturity—as both a songwriter and recording artist—only partially realized on previous CDs.

It would be easy to file this away as another independent female singer/songwriter project, especially considering the echoes of the Indigo Girls and Sarah McLachlan throughout. But these songs are strong, standing ably on their own as reflections of a relatively young life being well-lived.

The title cut offers glimpses into Norgaard's roots on the Iowa prairie, fusing present and past through a homecoming for a final goodbye. Here and on most of the rest of the album, the emotions are heartfelt, delivered with a quiet passion and authenticity. "One Flame" is a beautifully simple and poignant love song, while "Listen to the Wind," a playful bit of blues rock, and "Overtaken," closer to country than anything else, provide unexpected color and dimension.

Although guitarist Doug Floyd and drummer Will Clipman have played on previous recordings, the addition of bassist Jay Trapp and Michael Ronstadt on the cello allows the group to shine as much as the songs. Ronstadt's work is particularly affecting on "Pointless," while Floyd deftly mixes power chords and tasty licks throughout—often within the same tune. And Clipman, rarely seen in a rock format these days, brings lots of creative, percussive energy to the mix.

More by Jim Lipson

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