Artist: Ari Hest
CD Name: The Break-In
Artist Site: Ari Hest
Ari Hest is basically the Michael Buble or Clive Griffin of folk, giving us a new version of something old, especially on “I’ve Got You,” which sounds like an old school ‘50s love ballad with a bit of strings on the chorus.
Nearly each song begins with a crisp mix, emphasizing the vocals – to break into multiple layers of rhythms that are nearly orchestral if not overproduced. I was most impressed by “Big Ben” with its ticking guitar rhythm fading in and out along with the hand drums. I also enjoyed the fingerpicking on “Bird Never Flies” which reminded me so much of America’s “Muskrat Love” it wasn’t even funny. And despite the majority of the songs being intricately layered with clean sounds, I appreciated that on this song you could hear the occasional scrape of the guitar strings.
Hest’s music is very polished, with a tendency to sound like an odd cross between Oasis (especially on “Leaving Her Alone”) and Coldplay (on “So Slow”.) I think this is probably explained by the use of tambourine in the mix – and the higher pitched Babyface vocals. These vocals are mixed together for the gentle sounds of “The Break In,” which almost sounds like NSync in some of their mellower moments. The finale for this one was an experiment in sound, taking its good sweet time (over a minute!!) to fade out; cymbals accented by guitar fuzz make this an interesting grunge collage.
Overall the experimentation works. If you like the laid back I think you will enjoy this album.
Artist: Gretchen Peters
CD Name: Burnt Toast & Offerings
Artist Site: Gretchen Peters
If Gretchen Peters has been called “The Female Johnny Cash,” and has been compared to Ricki Lee Jones, Sheryl Crow and Lucinda Williams. Well, I totally dig that. So how do these comparison really stack up for someone who has never listened to Gretchen Peters before?
She doesn’t sound like Lucinda Williams at all – and isn’t remotely related to the dark wit and satire of Cash. I mean, her version of “Sunday Morning” goes, “There’s a dog barking/there’s no Sunday parking.” That seems to me a far cry from Johnny’s drug withdrawal anthem, “Sunday Morning Coming Down”! However, the production is great on this one with serious multilayers and a nice use of harmonics, very subtle church organ sounds and twinkling piano bits sprinkled here and there that bring in the jazz influence. Peters hits the Cyndi Lauper high register on her vocals and I loved it. She should do it more!!
No, she doesn’t sound like Sheryl Crow at all. She is not pop, and she is not rock. Gretchen Peters is very traditional modern country, with one exception and you might guess… She does in fact sound like Ricki Lee Jones! In fact, when Gretchen Peters sings her jazz tunes she excels. I wonder why she doesn’t switch genres and just do a full jazz album?
Peters says that her influences are Etta James and Bob Dylan. You would expect this would result in her music sounding like a combination of folk and jazz, right? “Thirsty” is an amazing totally sexy and smoky jazz tune complete with the jazz drum brushes, xylophone, clarinet and even a bit of horn! This is as far from country as you could possibly get. There is also a cover here: “One For My Baby.” I almost felt like I was sitting at a bar sipping a martini.
Burnt Toast & Offerings is being called Gretchen Peter’s “divorce album” I think the song “Jezebel” captured this better than the title track. It wasn’t what I expected – very subtle – just building strings muted underneath a finger picking loop. The lyrics: “Wear it like a crown/don’t let them take you down,” are delivered with a pain in Gretchen’s voice you can totally hear. I think that this song is actually my favorite on the album.
Gretchen is definitely a great songwriter who is not afraid to genre jump. I look forward to hearing more new jazz tunes from this artist in the future.