wears the trousers magazine


sounding off: august 2009 (v)
September 10, 2009, 9:05 am
Filed under: album, review | Tags: , , , , , ,

In August’s fifth and final batch of mini-reviews, we take a look at new releases from Ember Schrag, Starnes&Shah and Wisdom Tooth.

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Ember Schrag
A Cruel, Cruel Woman ••••
Lone Prairie

After eleven (!) self-released efforts, Ember Schrag’s latest album is coming at us through a record deal with Lone Prairie Records, a Nebraskan-faithful imprint that’s slowly building a roster to rival that of local champions Saddle Creek. At just 24 years old, Schrag has certainly been busy. Between writing songs, she’s a mum to an 18-month old daughter and keeps an open house that serves as meeting place, rehearsal room and concert venue for the steady flow of entertainers and music lovers who pop by the city of Lincoln. A singer-songwriter with a poetry degree might induce winces in certain circles, but A Cruel, Cruel Woman demands an open mind.

From the upbeat start of ‘Cupid’s Bloom’ to the nostalgic close of ‘Cruel Woman Blues’, this is an album that needs to be digested over the course of several listens. Schrag’s voice is smokey and evocative, engaging flawlessly with her mixed-genre confection of folksy lyrics and bluesy guitar work. Perhaps most appealing of all is ‘The Course Of Love’, a boldly sung, mandolin-drenched ballad built around the a gently lilting melody, Schrag’s alluring croon and some heartfelt, accessible lyrics, but the competition is strong. Against the odds, and probably inspired by them, Schrag has produced an album worthy of receiving wider attention.

Claire Robinson
UK release date: 26/06/09; www.myspace.com/emberschrag


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Starnes&Shah
Pink White Blue Green •••½
Self-released

Now here’s an interesting cultural collision. Zilpha Starnes, a former choirgirl from Texas, and Dania Abu-Shaheen, a rock music loving Lebanese expat, established themselves as a “vocal folk duo” in 2005 after sharing a New York apartment together for a year or so. Already a veteran of the city’s coffeehouse circuit with a solo album to her name, Abu-Shaheen initiated the collaboration and the pair soon found themselves the toast of the scene. Pink White Blue Green follows on from their 2007 debut Summer In The Woodshed, and was written in the midst of a bold move away from their NYC comfort zone and into the Boston artistic community. It’s hard to say exactly what impact this relocation might have had on the album, but Pink White Blue Green is nevertheless a clear step forward for the unlikely pair.

Though in some ways the duo recall other closely harmonising pairings like the Indigo Girls, their unique and powerful voices curiously don’t quite blend as one would expect. Their intelligent yet awkward harmonies and predominantly vocal slant on a folk-rock sound is original and enchanting. Highlights include ‘Rocket Science’ for its beautiful, melodic a cappella breakdowns, ‘Fit Fit Fit’ for its purity of purpose, and the stunningly raw and powerful ‘Leave Sonny’. In keeping with the colour wheel hopping of the title, there are times when Pink White Blue Green can leave one feeling a little lost and dizzy, but there’s always something just earthy enough around the corner to steer us back to an expedition of appreciation.

Claire Robinson
UK release date: 04/05/09; www.myspace.com/starnesandshah


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Wisdom Tooth
Cathedral Park •••½
Self-released

Wisdom Tooth is the latest music project from Meagan Day, a lo-fi folk pixie from Ohio who has previously recorded as Laughing Owls and as one half of Skelecopter. Debut full-length Cathedral Park follows on from last year’s EP The Ice Sculpture At The Heart Of Me [download for free here], and, for the time being at least, is another generous freebie. Even the most cursory listen immediately indicates Day’s speciality: short, uncomplicated ditties plucked out on her trusty ukulele that rarely fall short of a hard-to-dislike candy-strength sweetness. “I’m waiting for the drugs to wear off / I’m waiting for the medicine to kick in,” she sings on the title track, a catchy and rhythmic piece that saunters along with synthesised handclaps, prompting suspicions that her on-the-surface adorableness sugarcoats some darker thoughts. “You are not better off alone,” she goes on to reassure us, and it’s easy to believe her.

The lack of instrumental variety encountered over the album’s dozen songs will no doubt gall some, but from the title track opener to the mellow closer ‘Superhighway’, there’s enough in the way of ear-catching lyrics and cute little melodies to please any lover of indie folk maidens armed with jumping fleas. These whimsical treats demand to be heard at a campfire singalong or indie-conscious hoedown; well, perhaps not anything as strong as demand, but they certainly suggest it. Cathedral Park begs to be played over and over again, even when the source of its appeal isn’t quite definable.

Claire Robinson
Download free from cllct.com; www.myspace.com/okwisdomtooth


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