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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.

Jim Malec is a journalist whose work has appeared in American Songwriter, Country Weekly, Denver Westword and others. He is the founder of American Noise and former Managing Editor of The 9513.

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Album Reviews

Album Review: Yelle – Safari Disco Club

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When Yelle arrived on the scene in 2006, it was with “Je Veux Te Voir,” an attitude-packed and hilariously vulgar diss track directed toward rapper Cuizinier for his misogynistic views. The 2007 debut album, Pop Up, spawned two more minor hits with “A Cause des Garçons” and “Ce Jeu.” The French trio, led by singer Julie Budet, established themselves as purveyors of summery electropop. Then, they all but disappeared.

To a certain extent, Yelle have kept busy since their first album, remixing Katy Perry’s “Hot ‘n’ Cold” and appearing on the Kennedy track “John and Yoko,” as well as covering “Who’s That Girl?” by Robyn. However, in such a fast-paced music environment, no one can afford to take four years between albums unless the result is something that could universally be considered a masterpiece. Yelle’s sophomore release, Safari Disco Club, is a good effort that falls short of legendary status.

They’ve grown out of the youthful spirit of Pop Up, though “C’est Pas Une Vie” packs a bright punch, while “Que Veux-Tu” and “Unillusion” make good use of ’80s pop references. Songs like “Chimie Physique” and “La Musique” are much more mature in tone than anything Yelle have released before. There’s also more actual singing from Budet, rather than the sing-rapping previously employed. Safari Disco Club showcases a more developed act, but it doesn’t sound like four years’ worth of growth. The more subdued approach makes sense, but the songs aren’t as engaging as established fans might expect.

The dance scene has changed drastically since Yelle’s debut. This isn’t to say that producers GrandMarnier and Tepr should have gone for a dubstep approach—it wouldn’t suit Budet’s voice, though “S’Eteint le Soleil” has hints of grimey bass—but in an environment where the fresh-faced Londoner Katy B is poised for a takeover, it’s difficult to see where Yelle’s role is now.

The album sounds solid, with plenty of agile synths to spare, but it’s difficult to see what role it plays; it’s not exactly more of the same, but it may as well be. Safari Disco Club is worth a listen, but it fails to assert itself as something that demands listeners’ attention.

https://youtu.be/c53iVBzdBiY

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Album Reviews

Album Review: Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record

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In the five years since Canadian chamber-rock band Broken Social Scene released its last album, lead Scenester Kevin Drew has ably stepped into indie-stardom, nurturing mass-anticipation for the collective’s upcoming opus.

Enter Forgiveness Rock Record. With the Toronto outfit choosing to explore every bit of the space that their physical largesse affords, the wait has been worth it—even if the album requires a bit of stamina in order to fully grasp the triumph.

Perhaps the group—composed of a fluid membership that often numbers well into double digits—is finally becoming exactly what it is they were likely always going to be: a dramatic, sweeping and engrossing baroque-rock troupe. Besides, it’s not often that a group that has featured a melodica in the past acts as though it’s a power-pop trio, which many of their earlier songs have suggested.

While a lack of sonic cohesion does make itself evident, as the result of a mixed bag of styles that can often distract rather than attract, the significant and unifying thread of Kevin Drew’s Jeff Tweedy-esque, achy vocals equip the entire proceedings with immense heart. Some sort of binding agent is necessary, however, due to the divergent styles showcased. By showing off their skills in Post-rock (“Meet Me in the Basement”), bombastic, arena-anthems (“World Sick”), playful prog (“Chase Scene”) and effective melody making (“Texico Bitches”), it’s quite clear that this is a group that is more comfortable stretching their musical legs than the average listener will likely be sinking their teeth into this album.

Given the amount of time between records, not only is Forgiveness Rock Record an example of good things coming to those who wait, but also, to those who also don’t mind putting forth a little effort to gain great reward.

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Album Reviews

EP Review: Dan Fisk — Bruises from the Backseat

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When an album’s liner notes list multiple banjo players on the same song, you know it’s going to be an enjoyable listen. Dan Fisk has two banjo pickers on“Life and Limb,”  from his new solo EP, but that’s not the only thing he’s got going for him on Bruises from the Backseat (out 6/28).

Fisk (an upstate New Yorker who’s spent the past decade in Virginia), has a radio-ready, slightly raspy voice and solid songwriting skills. Album opener “A Thousand Love Songs” is the highlight of the disc, and had it been released fifteen years ago when Vertical Horizon and Matchbox 20 were flying up the charts, Fisk would probably be blowing his nose with $20 bills right now.

The EP’s sole cover is a version of Paul Simon’s “Stranded in a Limousine,” which features fellow area singer-songwriter Ted Garber on harmonica. It feels a little out of place among the more mellow tracks on the record, but it’s definitely a fun listen.

Bruises from the Backseat is a promising solo release from Fisk. Let’s hope a full-length record is next.

Listen If You Like: Duncan Sheik, The Wallflowers, Joe Pug, Jason Mraz

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