It's a lazy summer Sunday morning, and Charlene Grant's new CD, "That Would Be Me" is going perfectly with the sunshine, warm breezes, my cup of coffee - and the rumination over the complex interactions between men and women that can often happen at the end of a long week in the trenches of modern life. These tunes, with one exception written or co-written by Ms. Grant, support this kind of introspection - indeed, at times Charlene seems like a wise neighbor who has dropped in for brunch - to catch up, to tell stories, to offer her intimate observations and advice.

The kind of wry social commentary Charlene offers up here is an often neglected part of the modern songwriter's craft - particularly when it comes to the loosely defined genre now called "the Blues." The attraction of the Blues for many young folks, back when it first surfaced at the edges of mainstream America back in the 1960's, was not limited to the fiery instrumental work and powerhouse rhythms that have influenced so much of popular culture since. The Blues, as delivered by artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Memphis Minnie, B.B. King, Sonny Boy Williamson, Bessie Smith, Big Mamma Thornton, and by great songwriters like Willie Dixon and Jimmy Reed, had advice for us all about managing the rapidly changing roles of men and women - and the seemingly eternal issues lying just below the surface. Try as we might to wrestle sexual politics into submission, the whole world just kept on (and keeps on) fightin' about that same old thing.

The good news for men here is that Charlene takes a remarkably even-handed approach - she seems to like men just fine, and she treats our foibles with sympathy and understanding - to a point. The title tune, "That Would Be Me," is an advertisement for herself that portrays Charlene as the perfect woman for your typical slacker musician (and after decades of playing in bands with us in Alaska, California and the Northwest, she certainly knows what band guys want to hear).

"Who's gonna take care of ya, when you've been drinkin' too much gin?
Who won't even wanna know, about everywhere that you've been?
Who won't try to change you, and just let you be yourself?
That would be me!"

As the old song by The Band goes, "A drunkard's dream if I ever did see one!" No matter how lazy, selfish, or endlessly self-justifying a male you might be, Charlene's there for you, pardner, right? Well... actually, no. There are definite limits to her patience, as we find in "Life's Too Short", where we hear that "all the time I wasted on you, I coulda had my own fun..." and in the final analysis, "I've got better things to do, than to listen to a fool like you!"

Her sharp wit is not reserved for men, however. In a song like "Don't Try to Change Your Man," Charlene has advice for her sisters - and a warning about the dangers of micromanagement (described as "making sure he's doing things right - and doing it your way...")

"You say you really love him, there's just a few small things,
You're telling me you don't really like the way he acts sometimes,
And you think that you can change him, a little at a time...
Don't try to change your man..."

Independence comes at a price, though, and Charlene doesn't skip over this part, either - as in "I'm not the one, that you're ever gonna choose, I'm just the one with the Blues.." (with great stinging Albert Collins style guitar by John Stephan).

One of my favorites on this rich collection is a take-off on Johnny Paycheck's 70's hit, "Take This Job and Shove It." It's a new, dangerous century though, and the advice today is to try to love your job - while you still have one. "Do you know how many people want to work in other lands?" Topical commentary like this has always been a comfort to working people, and songs like this are sorely needed today.

I don't have room to go tune-by-tune in this review - much as I want to - but I hope you have a bit of the flavor. The music on this CD is uniformly excellent. Charlene assembled a large group of friends for this project - and her friends are among the finest area musicians, including co-producer, arranger and guitarist John Stephan, our brilliant local treasure Brother Jack Cook on guitar and National steel-bodied guitar, the great sax player John Firmin, the ubiquitous Greg Roberts on mandolin, and an array of excellent drummers and bass players, including Les Merrihew, Kevin Cook, John Lee, Guy Quintino, and Ms. Grant herself. Background vocals on many tunes feature the strong voice of Ava Stephan, who mixes perfectly with Charlene. John Marshall, Charlene's partner in crime from the New Orleans flavored "Wild Rhododendrons," and a fine songwriter himself, shows up as co-writer, lead vocal and harmonica on "Say the Word."

The music here really covers the waterfront, from the soulful funk of "The Business of Love," to the cafe jazz of "Spark an Old Flame." This is the kind of CD I keep looking for, year in and year out, and I rarely find collections of songs this well crafted, this diverse, this funny, this smart and this wholly satisfying - and it all comes from one talented woman - Awesome! Buy it, and next Sunday morning , when you sit down with your coffee, invite Charlene to join you. You will be a happier, and maybe even a better person for it.   ...Mark Dalton