Sometimes, it’s the little details in these songs that resonate most. On one called “Big,” where Greenbaum fights against the demon of self-doubt, finds the defiant singer attempting to talk herself into steroid-like emotional growth by imagining just how big she could become. At one point, she describes this inner expansion as making her “bigger than the old Rolling Stone.” If you’re from the internet age, which spelled the near-death of large periodicals, you may not get what she’s talking about. However, anyone that fondly recalls those newsstand issues that made rocks stars seem even bigger than bigger than life, will get a nice kick out of the line.
Greenbaum also has a little Bonnie Raitt in her, especially when the music gets either blues-y or gospel-ish. During “Magic,” where electric slide guitar accompanies her vocal, one can hear a distinctly Raitt-ian feel in her singing. Greenbaum also has a good feel for gospel music, which comes out during “On My Way,” which matches a somewhat secular lyric to a very church-y arrangement.
In addition to Raitt, one can hear a whole lot of Mary Chapin Carpenter in these songs. The most obvious connection is in the way Greenbaum phrases her singing almost exactly like Carpenter. It’s hard to put your finger on it; but if you’ve heard enough Carpenter, you can recognize it immediately. There is also a lyrical Carpenter link. The way Greenbaum’s character reveals the hard truth that a cheater will never ever leave his wife for an adulterous flame during “He’s Not Leavin’,” hearkens to the same way Carpenter can share truth in both a gentle and matter-of-fact manner.
As a lyricist, Greenbaum is much better at expressing personal feelings than she is with making larger social statements. For instance, “Walk in These Shoes” attempts to get inside the footwear of one who is out of work and trying desperately to find employment during these tough recessionary (or post-recessionary, although it doesn’t really feel all that better) times. Somehow, though, the listener does not pick up on the expected empathy in Greenbaum’s voice. Sometimes songwriters try too hard to tap into a collective national emotion. In this case, Greenbaum tries, but fails.
Nevertheless, Greenbaum is still a songwriting talent to be reckoned with. She’s so good at putting self-deprecation into song. When Taylor Swift is held up as the best example of female songwriting, yet that young girl has basically been writing the same breakup song for years, one has to wonder if that’s really the best we can do. Greenbaum has the ability to speak for the average woman, rather than the guts to sing about former celebrity partners, as does you-know-who. This Life is one we’ll certainly want to get to know a little better.