It’s been three years since singer and songwriter Zoe Muth and her band the Lost High Rollers released their last record. And it’s been 16 months since the Seattle native left her hometown for the rolling hills of Austin. The move across so much country to an unfamiliar land, which Muth made with drummer Greg Nies, informs her new album, World of Strangers, available May 27 on Signature Sounds.
After the move, Muth reassembled the Lost High Rollers with some of Austin’s most talented musicians, including producer and bassist George Reiff, Brad Rice (Keith Urban, Son Volt), Martie Maguire (Dixie Chicks) and Bruce Robison. They set up in the studio with Grammy-winner Steven Christensen behind the glass, and Muth allowed for a more free-flowing, experimental approach to the recording. The result is an album chock-full of new ideas, grounded in Muth’s signature country-folk style.
World of Strangers opens with the sparse and forlorn “What Did You Come Back Here For?” with Muth’s resonant vocals laid prominently over acoustic and slide guitars. The opener sets a somber tone for the next nine tracks of Americana that explore hard times and hard living, a storytelling narrative Muth naturally gravitates toward with heartrending honesty.
Muth has a penchant for country ballads and an uncanny ability to channel the likes of Emmylou Harris when she takes the mic. No longer confining herself to any one niche, Muth makes the most of her new surroundings and ensemble with poignant, soulful moments and surprises throughout the album.
Tracks like “Mama Needs a Margarita,” with its lackadaisical laments, call to mind the south-of-the-border-blues of Jimmy Buffett, while “Make Me Change My Mind” is as close to rock and roll as anything she’s put together, though it’s still steeped in classic country melodies. And “Waltz of the Wayward Wind” is just that, a waltz, albeit one slow to build and cathartic in its culmination—a description that neatly describes World of Strangers.