Friday, February 8, 2019

CD Odyssey Disc 1226: Amelia Curran

I had a nasty cold for the first half of the week but it has receded just in time for the weekend. Huzzah! My MP3 player also had a cold this week, mysteriously dying Thursday afternoon only to be successfully revived this morning with a reset. I had a brief spell of panic, but such are life’s perils for the music lover.

Disc 1226 is… Watershed
Artist: Amelia Curran

Year of Release: 2017

What’s up with the Cover? A part of Amelia Curran’s head, coloured in soothing blue tones. I like it.

How I Came To Know It: I read a review of this album in a folk music magazine (Penguin Eggs, I believe) and decided after hearing a couple of songs it was worth a try.

How It Stacks Up:  Amelia Curran has eight studio albums but only two caught my attention sufficiently to warrant a purchase. Of those two, “Watershed” is the lesser record. This puts it last in my collection but second best if you consider six albums didn’t even make the cut.

Ratings:  3 stars

“Watershed” is like a gentle mid-summer rain; a bit sad, but with a warmth that makes more soothing than depressing.

The record straddles the worlds of alternative country and pop, and it had me thinking alternately of Mary Chapin Carpenter and Aimee Mann depending on which tradition a particular song was cleaving to. Her vocals have the same smooth, low register delivery of both those artists, and a slight bluesy element to the delivery. Regrettably, I often found myself wishing I was listening to either of those artists instead.

There is nothing wrong with Curran’s vocals. She isn’t a powerhouse, but she writes songs that fit it well, and the tone of her voice is rich and conversational. There are moments where I wish she’d chosen a different phrasing, but for the most part she sings with a relaxed confidence that sits down comfortably in the pocket and tells you a story.

When the songs stray to the pop side of the equation, which they do a fair bit, they tend to lose their gravitas. There are moments on “Watershed” where it felt like the music was just a smooth inoffensive back drop, like something you’d hear in the background at an upscale urban lounge. This might be good for some, but for me music should be centre stage, not part of the scenery.

When she switches to a more folk-country style it is a definite improvement, and in these songs she sounds uncannily like more recent Mary Chapin Carpenter. I love Carpenter, and Curran’s songs are just as good melodically. Lyrically, they didn’t always grab me as much however, with imagery that felt comfortable but didn’t hold my attention. I’d recall an example but…like I said.

The best song on the album is “Sunday Bride” and it is a good one. With a smooth jazz style backbeat, and a lilting melody that showcases Curran’s voice at her best, I suspect this song was a big reason I bought the album in the first place. “Sunday Bride” also juxtaposes a mournful Aimee Mann like vocal performance with some accomplished electric guitar work from Dean Drouillard.

There are plenty of reasons to like “Watershed” and the 3 stars I’ve given it isn’t me having a soft moment – Curran earns it. It is just that apart from a couple of stand out tracks, I don’t see myself putting this album on over other similar music already in my collection. And so I will reluctantly let this one go and save the shelf space.

Best tracks: Watershed, Sunday Bride, Act of Human Kindness, Stranger Things Have Happened

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