There comes a time in all great artists' careers when they release their masterpiece. Sometimes, it's their debut, as with Shawn Colvin's Steady On and Patty Griffin's Living with Ghosts. Other times, it comes considerably further into their careers. Rosanne Cash's Interiors and Jason Isbell's Southeastern both land there, as does Chely Wright's new -- and thoroughly stunning -- I Am the Rain.
Produced by Joe Henry, the collection completes Wright's transition from her contemporary country beginnings to her Americana present and future, as cameos by Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, and the Milk Carton Kids surely attest. With help from some of the best players in the business, Henry crafts a sophisticated but never slick sound, both anchored and buoyed by his son Levon's captivating woodwind work.
At the heart of it all, though, is Wright and the most mesmerizing, magical batch of songs she's ever culled or composed. While there have been signposts in Wright's songwriting past ("Picket Fences" and "Broken," for instance) pointing to a deftness with the craft, I Am the Rain takes it to the next level, top-to-bottom. She's credited on 12 of the 13 tracks, but if you didn't already know that "Tomorrow Is a Long Time" is a Bob Dylan song, you wouldn't know "Tomorrow Is a Long Time" was a Bob Dylan song. That's how comfortably it sits within the cycle.
Anyone who has seen her 'Wish Me Away' documentary or read her Like Me autobiography knows that fearlessness is a classic Wright trait. This time out, she applies that tactic to her songwriting and singing. From "Inside" all the way through "See Me Home," she lays it all on the line for the whole world to hear. The fear, doubt, remorse, and sorrow she's endured over the past 10 years are all in there. Even still, it's an incredibly triumphant piece of work, with all of those emotions and experiences close enough to the surface to be raw, but never paralyzing.
A lot of artists get compared to Jason Isbell these days and very few deserve it. But, thanks to its breadth and depth, its vulnerability and its transparency, I Am the Rain feels very much like Chely Wright's Southeastern. It's just that good.