Within Make It Better, acoustic guitar is the main ingredient, each song dressed with the appropriate added instrumentation. Some songs, like the gospel-tinged, Ry Cooder-esque “I Don’t Mind the Rain,” feature accordion, pump organ, slide guitar, drums and bowed bass fiddle; others are almost stark in comparison, with only finger-style guitar and acoustic bass. Some compositions are lyrically sparse, some more complex. The most upbeat track is the rollicking, banjo-driven “Not Drag Me Down,” saying all that needs to be said in under two minutes! Although the majority of the songs are set at a rolling mid-tempo pace, the music never stops moving.
After listening to Make It Better, you might find yourself humming the yearning melody of the folky “Do You Ever” or the mellow, Mississippi John Hurt-meets-Richard Thompson tune of “When I’m Feeling Better.” Yet it’s not all relaxed and sunny. There’s an invitingly menacing quality to songs like the bluesy “Know” and the ballad “Clouds on Her Face.” And one of the cover tunes was written by the master of haunting, spooky blues, Skip James. Even an on-the-surface optimistic “Make It Better” (with guest vocalist Eilen Jewell) has an eerie, film-noire vibe, with the requisite yet appealing swells of electric guitar and field organ.