Tracy Grammer is a singer (warm, clear and sweet) and an instrumentalist (multiple strings), but not a writer. Instead, she depends on others for material. Book of Sparrows includes two songs by her late collaborator, Dave Carter, whose 1998 album, When I Go—featuring Grammer and recorded in her kitchen—is eerie and brilliant.
Grammer’s career has been defined by a justified dedication to Carter’s songs since his untimely death, but that catalogue may soon be exhausted. For Grammer, finding new material will mean redefining herself, and whether she can find another perfect marriage between songwriting and execution remains to be seen.
On Book of Sparrows, Grammer explores well-chosen material by five other songwriters. The cover of Tom Russell’s “Blue Wing” is a gem; Grammer isn’t afraid to linger over the details, and Russell’s songs are full of them. She strips Jackson Browne’s “In the Shape of a Heart” of its 1980s gloss, turning it into a slow country tearjerker.
Though a simple two-person recording (with current touring partner Jim Henry), Book of Sparrows sounds anything but bare. In fact, it may be too polished. Done too smooth, folk music fades into the background. These songs don’t get old—most improve with time—but they don’t quite sink their hooks in, either. (Ali Gadbow)
Tracy Grammer plays the Crystal Theatre Friday, April 10, at 8 PM. Jenn Adams opens. $18/$15 advance.