Album Review: Becky Schlegel – For All The World To See

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With her debut national release, South Dakota native Becky Schlegel showcases a soft warble of a voice that meets the ears like a gentle, moist kiss on the cheek. Never forceful, and at times little more than a whisper, For All The World To See is a fusion of folk, roots, and bluegrass that quietly positions itself as one of the most unexpected country albums of 2008.

Schlegel, a veteran of NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion, sings in an airy, almost girlish soprano that often channels Alison Krauss but still brims with its own unique character, all at once sensual and vulnerable.

From the remarkable “Jenny,” a heartbreaking newgrass narrative that reminds of Nickel Creek, to the serene “Sound Of Your Voice,” For All The World To See brings together Schlegel’s inventive melodies with production that smartly avoids trying too hard to establish itself as wholly bluegrass, a fact that allows the project to focus on what really matters–that voice.

While Schlegel is an average lyricist and a decent technical singer, it is the sincerity and character of her delivery, combined with the intriguing color of her voice, that ultimately marks For All The World To See as an album that deserves the attention of fans of progressive bluegrass.

The album’s title track is a shining example of the way in which Schlegel’s skill as a stylist overshadows her skill as a writer; “For All The World To See” is a mediocre song that is nevertheless a joy to listen to because of the impeccable way Schlegel draws out every ounce of emotion from it. And so is true of lead single “Bound For Tennessee,” a typical “leaving my small-town home” song that goes absolutely nowhere lyrically, but which Schlegel manages to render unique and engaging anyway.

When all is said and done, For All The World To See is significantly burdened by its lack of standout material. Despite the fact that Schlegel’s writing is vivid and poignant, it sometimes lacks a sense of sharpness or urgency–two attributes which would play well in contrast to her calm and understated vocal approach. Still, one of the marks of a truly compelling singer is that she can make average songs sound great–something which Schlegel does throughout.

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