To those who look upon Kim Richey as just another singer/songwriter, even those who believe her a somewhat exceptional one, I give you Chinese Boxes. Ostensibly a collection of Richey-penned pop tunes (all but one co-written), it steps beyond the structure of song and sound to reach a level few achieve in a lifetime of writing and recording: that just short of perfection. Front to back, the album does exactly what Richey intended. It transcends time. Each song a pop gem in itself, they together inhabit past, present and future in a microcosm hard to explain yet harder to deny, a world in which melody, hook, production and performance meld together to alternately wash over you or send you dancing, but never to extremes for the extremes step outside of pop and become something you have to study to enjoy. Yes, you could study these songs, but therein lies the beauty of this album and pop music in general: there is no need. Each song is, of and in itself, complete.
The title track is an excellent example: light, rhythmic and upbeat with melody in multiple layers, a delightful chorus with great saxophone-as-support and the wonderfully understated Kim Richey voice. Indeed, from song to song, Richey matches that voice unerringly to the mood of the moment. From the exuberance of Chinese Boxes to the soft, musing Pretty Pictures, the vocals blend so well that the song itself remains the focus. And let's be crystal clear on the subject: Richey has a great voice. The fact that she basically chooses to subjugate it to the music just makes it all that much better. It is a prime example of voice as instrument.
There is more here than just the music, too. The recording and sound itself is a large part of what makes this so good. Giles Martin has the touch as producer and all of those involved, from sound engineer to mixer to mastering engineer, do their parts well. The resulting sound is just short of slick—produced but not overproduced. A hard balance to attain, but they nailed it.
Music has changed over the years. Rap, Hip Hop, Country, Pop—we all have genres of choice—but the great song will never die, regardless of musical fads. Chinese Boxes will have baby boomers and lovers of melody longing for the days of AM radio when a great song could turn a bad day good and a good day better. Any pop chart from the '50s to the present, in fact, could add these songs and not raise an eyebrow. Great music is great music, after all. Pop music, though—really good Pop music—is timeless.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2007, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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