The album kicks off with “Blue Earth County,” and finds Overbo looking for his blessing. His trusty Telecaster has just enough twangy low-end notes to please as he laments
If I knew it was this hard
I would have stayed in Blue Earth County
With Derek and the Dominoes to satisfy my mind
I’ve traveled a thousand miles so I can find
I need to find my blessing before I lose my mind
Overbo hails from Minnesota farm country with a heavy dose of Buck Owens for inspiration. Next up, Maria Francis reaches for the brass ring with the title track. “Ragged Heart” is a sort of response as she sings “you never told me life would be easy.” Francis has a voice that is a thing of wonder. Her singing is by turns swooning and romantic, unpredictable and starkly honest, and, occasionally, slightly loopy. You get the feeling that she is the one you want to hang with at the post-show party.
“Faded Tattoo” is Francis singing about hard times and homelessness. Her narrator is sleeping on the concrete with only her old dog for warmth. She is on the skids and all she has left is the aforementioned tattoo. In the hands of a lesser performer the song could easily veer into saccharine and sentimental territory, or, at worst, sound insincere and patronizing. Francis neatly sidesteps such pitfalls with a vocal that is pure and heartfelt.
“Like a River” is a relationship that starts out with a seductive pull that is doomed to fail. Overbo’s central knows this instinctively, but surrenders to an undertow stronger than the tractor beam of the death star. He won’t be getting out unscathed, if he gets out at all. “Broken Dreams and Cigarettes” deals in shattered hopes and disappointment. The ballad, set over a languid pedal steel guitar, details the attempts to bury the pain.
Overbo and Francis co-produced Ragged Heart with Portland’s resident pedal steel wizard, Bryan Daste. The skilled supporting cast provides fine backup, without ever stealing the spotlight from Francis or Overbo. They make a remarkable duo. Their vocal harmonies, and their ability to blend on each other’s songs make for a well-rounded partnership, one where both parties shine equally, without overshadowing the other. If you are looking for a great new country record, skip Nashville for Portland and Silverlake 66.