Taking their name from the classic Carter Family song of the same name, vocalist and banjo player Chelsey Coy and her band deliver an album worthy of the ache, the yearning, and the liberatory ambivalence of their namesake.
Joining Coy on Three Generations of Leaving are Shannon Söderland on harmonica and background vocals, Charlie Rauh on acoustic and electric guitar, John Gray on electric and upright bass, and Oskar Häggadahl on drums and percussion. The narrative arc of the album, musically and lyrically, follows the losses and loves of three generations of women — the mother, one of her daughters, and her estranged granddaughter. Coy’s stories in songs bring to life the women’s pain and alienation and their taking control of their lives.
Plucky banjo picking opens “Walking on Water,” the album’s first track, creating somnolent layers of sparkling sound over which Coy twines her wraithlike vocals. The unhurried pace evokes the act of walking languidly across a material substance that is at once capable of drowning you and transporting you. Sixties girl group harmonies meet Jesse Colin Young guitar licks meet the jazz inflections of It’s a Beautiful Day on “So She Runs,” a bopping jubilant tune that tucks the darkness of alienation in minor chords with the hope of new life in a different place.
The haunting “Wreck Cut Loose” opens with a sonic phrase from “I Will Always Love You” before circling upward with transportive chords that affirm the singer’s loss and her attempts to find herself and the reasons for her loss. Tinkling piano notes and flowing harp strums create haunting airs on “Scared to Move,” mimicking the feelings of immobility arising from fear of moving on.
The album closes with a simply gorgeous country waltz “The Flood,” floating on dancing lead guitar runs and aching steel guitar leads, recalling Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” The song’s subject of a mother’s love for her son and his separation from her because of his drug use swirls over the music into an unforgettable feeling of loneliness.
Three Generations of Leaving overflows with ethereal harmonies and enrapturing music that wrap around affecting and moving lyrics and mesmerizing stories of hopelessness and hopefulness, loss and love, abuse and affection.