Critics have been raving about Beth Amsel's voice for a few years now, especially after an early decade run with Voices on the Verge, and it's no wonder for there is a timbre to her vocals which grab at the musical soul. Truth be told, the critics rave because of her innate ability to work within her vocal strengths, and that vaults her to the head of the class. Rather than push the envelope, Amsel gives us short bursts of her capabilities, saving them for those moments of moment, making the highs that much higher and the moments that much sweeter. In between those bursts, you hardly notice because she takes you on a ride, and it's a good one.
There's not a clunker in the bunch here, starting with the straight-ahead choogling folk-rocking Michigan, a lyrical jewel with hooks galore. Halfway through, you know Amsel is far from average when she clears her pipes and gives mere hint of what she can do. As for the song, it's Peaceful Easy Feeling in Amsel-ese. Shades of Marcia Ball and Rory Block inhabit Come Up, an acoustic upbeat blues number with perfecto female vocal harmonies. Hello Baby gives the spotlight to Stephen Kellogg until Amsel steps in and makes his vocal that much better with a vocal performance worthy of the best. A hauntingly beautiful ballad, especially as a duet. Inman's Lament reeks of early '60s folk when pop and even psychedelic influences morphed that somewhat pure form into something else altogether. The acoustic guitars lay out 3 A.M. music in slow 6/8 time and, thanks to superb arrangement and beautiful production, sweeps you into a closet of despair.
She rocks, too. Maybelline is more power-pop than folk-rock and has a chorus worthy of popdom. Time flat out buries the pedal. Though it sounds like a pleasant choogler at low volume, crank it up and it kicks butt. Live, this would stop the show. She swings on Swing, oddly enough, and nods toward '50s country with Untitled Waltz.
Ten out of the eleven are originals, either written or co-written by Amsel. The one non-original, Duran Duran's The Chauffeur, is arranged so beautifully, it sounds like an Amsel. Fresh, original, accessible. In short, she can write.
Dave Chalfant deserves credit for what I would consider flawless production and above-and-beyond guitar work. He obviously knows Amsel's music well and gives the project that magical touch.
If one could have a complaint, it would probably be the colors chosen for the liner notes. White on a beige-gray makes for migraine headaches when trying to read them. Unfortunately, music this good will have you referring to them constantly because, man, when you really hear this, you'll have to know who and, seriously, what's a little headache when the music's right.
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