Some artists simply sing songs, sharing subjects that are either real or imagined. Others engage in flights of fantasy or, conversely, offer their own views on the state of society with regard to what they perceive as worldly wisdom.
Texas-bred singer/songwriter Helene Cronin describes herself as a “story-singer.” Hers is a musical mission born from experience, as well as a desire to bring to life stories and ideas that resonate with genuine emotion and, in their wake, impart lessons that her listeners can absorb within their own life experiences. It’s a direction and determination she’s pursued over the course of her career, and for that matter, most of her own life as well. It’s flourished and been nourished ever since she borrowed her brother’s guitar and taught herself how to play.
For Helene, cultivating that connection is rooted in a deeply personal perspective. She recalls meeting a woman after a house concert, who told her through tears, “Listening to you and your songs makes me want to be a better person.”
That comment made an immediate impression. “I can't really think of a better reason to keep doing what I do,” she reflects. “And to keep believing there's a higher purpose for me writing one more song that only a few people might ever hear.”
With two popular EPs — 2014’s Restless Heart and 2015’s Belong to the River — and her critically acclaimed 2019 full-length debut, Old Ghosts & Lost Causes, accolades have come quickly. Now with a new album, aptly-titled Landmarks, released in February 2023, that chorus of kudos is likely to get even louder. Produced by Matt King, who also helmed Old Ghosts & Lost Causes, it features an A-list of accompanying musicians including Kenny Vaughan (Electric guitars), Byron House (Bass), Bobby Terry (Acoustic Guitars, Banjo, Steel, Mandolin), and on drums, Jerry Roe, Paul Eckberg and Chris Powell.
Mixed and engineered by Mitch Dane at Sputnik Sound in Nashville with additional recording at Big Bicycle Studio in Nashville and mastering by Kim Rosen at Knack Mastering in Ringwood, NJ, it also promises to bring Helene the wider attention she so decidedly deserves.
Helene credits King with bringing out her best. “Matt’s a superb songwriter, and because he’s also an artist, he really understands the artist brain and the artist heart. He brings immense vision and talent to my projects.”
That’s evident in the three songs that have been previewed thus far. The title track, the beautiful beguiling ballad “Landmarks,” will be the first single. Helene brought the title and idea for the song into a co-write with 16 year-old Ava Paige in Nashville. “She was going through chemo for leukemia and I had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer,” Helene explains. “We spent a little time connecting over that common ground, but quickly shifted to talking about how our dads took us fishing. Growing up on Long Island, my memories of being with my father out on the family boat sparked this idea. The song turned into a little gem, a celebration of the things that can call you back home when you've lost your way.”
A standout track "Just a Woman" starts deceptively simply with one voice telling the stories of three women. It moves from this delicate narrative to a triumphant finale featuring the combined chorus of Wendy Moten, Heidi Newfield, Vicki Hampton and Shelly Fairchild. The song is a powerful and soulful tribute to women everywhere, who even in this modern world face unthinkable circumstances.
"What Do You Lean On" asks, with a hint of twang, one of those big life-defining questions. Everyone has a go-to in times of uncertainty or struggle. It should be something that can bear that weight, the song asserts.
Helene knows of what she speaks. For the past 19 years, she’s been an impactful presence in Nashville songwriting circles, composing music for both her own projects and for the commercial country market. She hosts writers-in-the-round sessions at Nashville's famed Bluebird Cafe and performs in a variety of settings, from coffeehouses and small venues to festivals. She often performs in her nearby Texas environs, opening for Kathy Mattea, Chris Hillman and Willis Alan Ramsey, among others.
“I used to put out music for the contemporary Christian market here in Texas,” she explains. “That was back before I really started pursuing Americana music and writing for the country music community, targeting major label artists. Eventually, I realized that I had written a number of personal songs and needed to put out my own music. In 2014, I finally went back into the recording studio. I really haven’t stopped since.”
The critics clearly approve, as evidenced by the flood of kudos that have come her way over the course of her career. A New Folk Winner at the prestigious Kerrville Folk Festival in 2018, she’s drawn comparisons to Lori McKenna, Mary Gauthier, and other songwriters who share intimate experiences, unblemished honesty and their own unguarded vulnerability. John Apice wrote in Americana Highways, "Her vivid lyrical abilities are without question. She’s like Leonard Cohen - (She) writes with a good editing pen and produces tight, original tales, then adds an invigorating melody."
Melissa Clark shared the same sentiments with the magazine’s exclusive premier. "In a world of love songs, Helene Cronin’s songwriting takes unpredictable turns we can all relate to....Cronin creates utterly fresh perspectives that are immediately familiar at the same time..."
Robert K. Oermann of Music Row Magazine declared, "Our DisCovery Award goes to Helene Cronin, yet another example of how women are making some of our best music.”
Then again, Helene’s music is born from experience and her own solid sense of self. “I was born on Long Island and spent my early years growing up there.” she explains. “My family moved to Texas when I was in junior high and I've been here ever since, except for some time I spent bouncing around during college. I am in Nashville every month for a week or two, but Texas is home base and I like having my feet planted here.”
Even so, Helene admits to being something of a workaholic. “I write a LOT of songs!” she says. The last few years, I wrote 50 to 60 songs a year, so when it came time to select the 12 songs for this album, I had way too many to pick from. Matt and I had to arm wrestle over our respective choices. We were still making hard song decisions right up until we went into the studio to track this record.” Nevertheless, the results vindicate the effort, leading to the realization that Landmarks will in fact live up to its name.
“I feel like I'm on the brink of everything I've been working for all these years in Nashville, while going back and forth,” Helene maintains. “I'm on the brink of some things finally happening, and I've got to say, it feels good.”
It’s likely to feel good to everyone who hears her as well.
For more information about Helene, try these links for store, performance schedule, music and other announcements.
Link to interview about "OLD GHOSTS & LOST CAUSES" Kelly's Country Blog
REVIEWS OF "OLD GHOSTS & LOST CAUSES":
Music Row Magazine, DISClaimer column review
"Our DisCovery Award goes to Helene Cronin, yet another example of how women are making some of our best music." - Robert K. Oermann
Review by Americana Highways
"As some already know, HC’s vivid lyrical abilities are without question. She’s like Leonard Cohen — writes with a good editing pen & produces tight, original tales then adds an invigorating melody." - John Apice
Review by Elmore Magazine
"There’s some of Gretchen Peters’ darkness and incisive poetry in Helene Cronin’s terrific debut, and that alone should be more than enough for singer-songwriter fans to give Cronin their attention. Cronin is a wordsmith who pulls no punches. Some songs may make you uncomfortable but leave you marveling at her songwriting just the same." - Jim Hynes
Americana Highways: Premiere of "Careless With a Heart"
"In a world of love songs, Helene Cronin’s songwriting takes unpredictable turns we can all relate to. In an already rich songwriting landscape, Cronin creates utterly fresh perspectives that are immediately familiar at the same time on Old Ghosts & Lost Causes." - Melissa Clarke
Review by Midwest Record
"Holy moley, if this doesn't sound like a lost album from Roseanne Cash's dark period in the 90s, what does? From laboring in the background to winning at Kerrville last year, this folkie is more than ready for her run for the roses.Certainly a dark album, it's one of those ones that finds beauty in pain and leaves you changed when it gets done with you." - Chris Spector
New Album Reviews - Lonesome Highway
"Helene Cronin, after a couple of EPs has released this full length album and with her songwriting and vocal talent has made it one to note. She and producer King can feel they have achieved something special here that is worthy of the talents of all involved." - Stephen Rapid
Fervor Coulee- Roots Music Opinion
"Cronin is most obviously an experienced troubadour. Through the starkness of the recording environment, her natural warmth and personality is conveyed as acutely as if being heard in an intimate coffee shop or club. Once settled into the album, one begins to hear Cronin’s distinctive qualities—the way she draws out a syllable, an unhurried approach to rhythm and tempo, and a keen perspective that makes every image and lyric impacting. When considering numbers to highlight, I couldn’t ignore a single one. I love being introduced to a singer-songwriter not previously encountered. Helene Cronin’s Old Ghosts & Lost Causes is an incredible artistic statement. I can’t wait to hear more of her music." - Donald Teplyske
Review by "The Country Angel" Kelly's Country
"There are a lot of folks who claim to be songwriters. Some are awesome at their craft, while others can write lyrics but lack a soul. Helene Cronin has both (and then some), melding lyrics and heart into something magical." - Kelly Henkins
Take Effect Review
"Cronin delivers the entire package here, an album that blends together seamlessly from one track to the next, as she explores her vast skill set with imaginative, soulful and unforgettable songwriting that any and all fans of Americana and folk music will enjoy every second of." - Tom Haugen
"Anytime I lose sight of the fact that I am doing a music review and become captivated with the songs themselves, it makes an impression. Each of the eleven tracks on [Old Ghosts & Lost Causes] certainly accomplished that. In fact, after my initial notes, I stopped taking them all together, preferring instead to simply sit and listen to a masterful example of how to tell a story." - Paul Wilson
Review by Don & Sheryl's Blues Blog
"It’s Helene’s deep emotion and honesty that grabs you in this collection." - Don Crow
Review by Sam Pierre, Le Cri du Coyote, France
Helene Cronin has been active for about 20 years....After two EPs released in 2014 and 2015, she has just recorded her first LP, "Old Ghosts & Lost Causes" (independent). This album is not a first try, but it is truly a master stroke. Helene's singing talent is evident, both in acoustic ballads ("Riding The Gray Line", "In A Kiss") and in songs more bluesy ("Mean Bone") or rock ("El Camino Fly"). Her writing skills (she wrote or co-wrote all the titles) are also highlighted, addressing various themes ("Humankind", "Devil I Know", "The Last Cowboy"). The album is superbly produced by Matt King and Helene is accompanied by top musicians: Bobby Terry and Kenny Vaughan on guitars, Byron House on bass and Chad Cromwell on drums. It's an album in which the artist puts all her talent (I should write, her talents) but above all, and that's audible, her whole heart. When she leaves with "Ghost", a nearly six minute ballad, backed only by her guitar, we take the offering as a sign of love from someone who has a lot to give.
Roots Highway Review, Italy
"What immediately captures...is the peculiarity of her music to show us the stories she sings, thus managing to establish an intimate and direct dialogue with us. The tenderness, delicacy, but also the groove and energy that pervade the 11 tracks of the album reveal the inner world of the singer-songwriter making it accessible to us and allowing us to take part in it. Helene's delicate and enveloping voice cradles us, comforts us and gives us joy. A timbre that in the most intimate pieces reminds a little of Emmylou Harris, in other more aggressive ones it reminds Stevie Nicks instead." - Sara Fabrizi
QUOTES FROM OTHER ARTISTS:
Helene Cronin can flat out spin a lyric. Her ability to crawl within a subject and pull a story or emotion out the other end is what makes her a brilliant songwriter. Those writing chops delivered with those earthy vocals have made her one of the best artists I’ve heard in a long time. - Terri Hendrix, Performing Songwriter/Artist
I like songs that tell the truth. Helene Cronin's songs do just that. Helene delivers her songs with sheer soul. She invites you into her world and it's a great listen. - Lloyd Maines, Music Producer and Musician.
Helene is a master of words who writes and sings straight from the heart. Each song is a handcrafted mini-movie. - Zane Williams, Texas Artist
Old Ghosts and Lost Causes is easily one of my favorite records in a very long time! It moves me to my core, thanks to Helene's masterful storytelling, her honest vocals and tasty guitar voicings and grooves. She is a modern day Guy Clark possessing the power to transport your imagination - or your soul, from your everyday goings-on, to twists of emotions that will churn the very marrow in your bones. She is a beautiful poet, who, matched with Matt King's keen ear, together have made a stunning body of work here. Helene is as authentic as it gets...and if you're into that kind of music, well...you'd be a fool not to buy this record! - Heidi Newfield, recording artist and former lead singer of Trick Pony
"If you love songs that you can't get out of your head not only because of the cool feel but the lyrics that make you think, you will love this new release by Helene Cronin!"
"The lyrics have such depth and relativity to the listener. She's a hidden treasure just waiting to be found. I love her messages within the songs."
"A refreshing and inspiring set of tunes. I guarantee after you preview the songs you will own the whole set. More, please Helene!"
"This CD made me laugh and cry numerous times! Helene is a talented and inspiring songwriter with such a unique ability to put emotions into the songs she writes."
"This CD will rest your restless heart. These songs tell stories that bring tears to your eyes and make you smile. Gifted songwriter, keep them coming!"
"Stunning song that's sung so well it hurts." (Re: Belong to the River)
"Helene has a way of reaching right into your heart and delicately pulling out a tear with her honest lyric and authentic vocal style. I dare you to leave a Helene Cronin show without something to think about and music you want to share with everyone you love."