"THE LONG SURRENDER," Over the Rhine (Great Speckled Dog)
Over the Rhine marks its 20th year with a new "The Long Surrender" that follows the same path as previous releases: The Ohio duo/couple of Linford Detweller and Karin Bergquist casts a charming spell with a timeless sound that seamlessly moves from genre to genre (jazz, folk, pop and more), powered by fluid arrangements and Bergquist's diverse voice.
On the downside, that tendency toward classic sounds makes even the act's original material seem vaguely familiar, as if OTR were a sophisticated cover band. What's more, the genre jumping muddies OTR's distinction, fostering a feeling that something's missing. Nevertheless, "The Long Surrender," a collaboration with Joe Henry, is sumptuous listening that evokes ageless feelings of love, sadness and hope.
Bergquist ably jumps from mood to mood, context to context. She slides into the easy sway of the bittersweet "The Laugh of Recognition" with weathered weariness, "Everybody has a dream that they will never own," going on to explain that the song's title refers to "When you laugh but you feel like dying." She's perfect for the wry lounge-bar atmosphere of "Infamous Love Song" (which includes the analogy "safe as a painting by Currier and Ives"), her delivery is stately for the dark, piano-based torcher "Sharpest Blade" and she's sweet in the gentle, steel-steeped strains of "Days Like This." Bergquist also has just enough contrast in her voice for a gritty duet with Lucinda Williams, "Undamned," as the two trade lines in a Western lament.
It's easy to get caught up in the moment, even if "The Long Surrender" doesn't stick with you for the long haul.
Rating (five possible): 3-1/2
"TELL ME," Jessica Lea Mayfield (Nonesuch)
Artistic tension might have been expected between Jessica Lea Mayfield and producer Dan Auerbach, but the two beautifully resolve whatever differences they have on "Tell Me" -- without obvious compromise on either's part.
Auerbach, 31, is the front man for the raucous blues-rock Ohio band the Black Keys, and Ohio native Mayfield, 21, grew up performing in a family bluegrass band and has a subtle, often detached, vocal delivery.
Auerbach, who has been building his resume as a producer, has worked with Mayfield before, and his touch is all over "Tell Me." Yet she holds sway in his arrangements, sleepwalking through his electric debris with an offbeat combination of bliss, sass, soul and melancholy.
For example, on "Blue Skies Again," Mayfield sweetly sings poppish lines such as, "This heart of mine is ready for the spring," as Auerbach clutters his bass-heavy mix with nuance. Elsewhere, she's meditative and weary against his resonant blues guitar and determined pace on "I'll Be the One That You Want Someday," and Mayfield's deadpan vocal methodically enchants despite Auerbach's festering electricity on "Trouble.'
The juxtaposition doesn't work by happenstance, and that's a credit to the producer for letting the singularly talented singer upstage his creative work.
"LET IT ALL GO," Christina Ashley (Sketchin')
Kudos to 17-year-old Christina Ashley for putting in the effort to be a success rather than taking the instant-star route of an "American Idol" contestant. The talented teen from San Diego worked through a bit of a tragedy in the process -- her family home was completely destroyed by fire -- yet she gamely penned a few tracks with Amber and Rob Whitlock, who produced her debut, "Let It All Go," for their own Sketchin' Records.
Generally speaking, those originals are the highlights of the release that mostly features covers of songs by the likes of Elton John, Billy Joel and Dan Fogelberg. Although the quantity and execution of those covers prove to be problematic for Ashley's release, she nevertheless impresses as a promising singer with a timeless style. She's more Olivia than Avril, harkening a vocal-focused era when pop was clean to the brink of sterile. If not for dips into melancholy and dark-tinged themes, "Let It All Go" would be almost cloyingly wholesome.
But with the Whitlocks as her guide, and supported by an able cast of session musicians, Ashley presents herself as a clear-headed, clear-voiced singer, not precocious though hardly immature. The original songs include the piano-based opener "By Your Side," the congas-and-bass-built "Away," the slightly clunky and deceptively buoyant "I Still Remember That Time" and the stark piano-and-voice-only title-track closer.
Those new tracks all point to a bright future, but the covers? Not so much.
(E-mail Chuck Campbell of The Knoxville News-Sentinel in Tennessee at Campbell(at)knews.com.)
Copyright 2011 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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