It crosses our mind sometimes that of course Orange County would be a perfect place for country and cowboy culture -- there's a reason John Wayne and Claim Jumper are big here, after all, and interesting that both of them (well, the founder of Claim Jumper specifically) come to the area from elsewhere. In the case of Fullerton's Alice Wallace, she shares a similar outsider background in that she came here Florida three years back. Wallace herself calls her music folk more than country per se but it's an approach where the boundaries can happily blur, in a background where Carole King and Crystal Gayle were always kissing cousins from the get-go. And after all, any album that ends with a song called "A Little Yodel" which not only features that but is an explanation about how she learned to yodel in the first place has got a high-and-lonesome background in there somewhere.
Both country and folk music as such is theoretically about tradition, but in reality is about what kind of traditions are used where; when so much of what's on the bill at a place like Stagecoach could be called classic rock or hair metal or adult contemporary in any other guise, the genre names means less than the overall sounds. Wallace and her backing band shift as the album goes, whether song for song or within a tune, in a sometimes genteel approach that's as much '90s singer/songwriter mode as country or folk roots -- a song like the title track seems like it could have been an adult album alternative hit up there with Sarah McLachlan or Shawn Colvin in another life. (Not for nothing did Wallace open for Colvin last month at the Coach House.)
There's a bit of tougher sass at plenty of points as well -- "Tell Me Something" benefits not only from that but some nice '60s r & b organ from guest Mike Malone, "That Was Me" starts off calm but gets sharper and more dramatic as verses build into choruses, "Baby I Do" and "Strange Town" takes a turn around low-key jazz and swing that Lyle Lovett could approve of -- and throughout Wallace happily revels in a voice that plays around with styles but always just plain sounds pretty good. So it's a traditional album, Sweet Madness
, but one that uses a variety of traditions instead of just one and does so in engaging fashion.
Alice Wallace will be performing tonight at the Copper Room in Santa Ana along with the Fallen Stars, Royal Albatross and Two Guns -- 21 and over, $5.