White Lilies Island
In what seems to be an attempt to overthrow her former "Torn" personality, Natalie Imbruglia has managed to inhabit a strange place between Lisa Loeb and Shirley Manson.
Aussie pop princess Imbruglia, who gained fame for her single "Torn" from 1998's Left of the Middle, has returned to the music scene with something different. White Lilies Island, named after Imbruglia's home in Windsor, is not the poppy sophomoric product that one might have expected as a follow-up to the former soap opera star's syrupy first album.
Although opaque threads of pop still dominate the album, White Lilies Island certainly deserves points for being stylistically eclectic. Imbruglia takes forays into Coldplay-esque rock and experiments with more elaborate sounds evocative of Garbage or U2.
But Imbruglia cannot quite master her Shirley Manson impression, attempted on tracks like "Sunlight."
Although "Sunlight" begins with an unexpectedly rolling sound like that of Garbage's Version 2.0, this rough, raw rock is made far less effective by the addition of Imbruglia's impossibly sweet-girl vocals. Additionally, her lyrics, though grasping at Manson's sadomasochism, ultimately cannot quite make an effective, pained power ballad.
Often, Imbruglia is more like Lisa Loeb -- sweetness and light. Although melancholic and far more produced than Loeb's work, Imbruglia's "Talk in Tongues" and "Wrong Impressions" sound, at times, much like clips from Loeb's Firecracker.
Imbruglia is at her best when she finds a middle ground between these two extremes. Her potential shines through in the sensual and simple "Do You Love" and an oddly contemplative "Hurricane."
On these tracks, it seems that Imbruglia forgets to be the soap-star-turned-musician torn between self-assertion and sugar. Instead, she becomes, for a few rare moments, a singer.
By Michelle Jarboe
While You Weren't Looking
While her Whiskeytown ex-bandmate Ryan Adams was charming the critics, earning three Grammy nominations, and wooing fans like Sir Elton John, Caitlin Cary was poising for a turn of her own toward stardom.
No longer content to play second fiddle, Cary has broken away from the shadow of Whiskeytown and Adams with her first solo album, While You Weren't Looking.
When given the spotlight, the Raleigh-based Cary boasts a lovely and affecting voice with only the slightest country edge -- she sounds more like Sarah McLachlan than LeeAnn Rimes.
Cary's voice proves most potent on the album's harder-rocking tracks, like the lilting opening song "Shallow Heart, Shallow Water" and "Thick Walls Down," the album's best track.
"Thick Walls Down" is a rocking duet with Todd Cockrell, one of many cameos on the album by noted Triangle musicians like Superchunk's Jon Wurster, Mayflies U.S.A.'s Adam Price, and former Whiskeytown players Mike Daly, Skillet Gilmore and Mike Santoro.
The gentle ballad "Fireworks" distinguishes itself from the album's other tracks with its sparing but effective touches of Cary's trademark violin. Her voice is both fragile and impenetrable here, a heart-rending combination.
The depth of Cary's voice is also displayed in the plaintively aching closing track "I Ain't Found Nobody Yet." A wrenching take on heartbreak driven by a sorrowful electric guitar solo, "I Ain't Found Nobody Yet" is one of three tracks co-written by Ryan Adams.
Adams also lends his pen to "Please Don't Hurry Your Heart" and voice to "The Battle," included on a limited edition bonus disc, which recalls the former glory of Whiskeytown in a duet with Cary.
The album's weakest tracks suffer from cliche-riddled lyrics like those from "Sorry." Cary sings, "You are a bitter brother in the shadow of a twin/ Strangled in her warm embrace/You have grown up savage, mean and thin."
But even the lesser tracks feature a mature musicality and elegant savvy that make this freshman effort indicative of great things to come.
It seems true talent bloomed while we weren't looking in Caitlin Cary's direction.
By Jill Spivey
Spirit Touches Ground
Josh Clayton-Felt died from cancer before could see the completion of his second solo album.
To keep Clayton-Felt's memory alive, DreamWorks Records has released the former School of Fish singer's sophomore album, Spirit Touches Ground.
The album consists of songs Clayton-Felt originally recorded at A&M Records. After being dropped from that label in 1998 and going through lots of industry red tape, the singer/guitarist re-recorded his songs with DreamWorks.
The album is a mix of blues, funk, classic rock and splashes of music from across the world. Keyboards mimic sounds of India as "Night of a Thousand Girls" seductively dances around the listener.
Clayton-Felt's ear for musical arrangement is showcased on the track "Backwards World." His guitar strum is gently overtaken by the majestic waves of a trombone as the youthful ode to self-discovery becomes reminiscent of marching band competitions and half-time shows.
Sadly, listeners might wish Spirit Touches Ground was strictly instrumental.
From the beginning of "Diamond in Your Heart," Clayton-Felt annoyingly reverberates each line. Singing, "Sometimes my heart's so hungry I don't trust my mind," listeners are dragged back to the 80s and painful memories of "The Breakfast Club."
A fusion of blues and alternative rock, "Invisible Tree" slinks from line to line, running smack into a whimsical chorus, "Invisible tree/Invisible tree you're not invisible to me." Off-beat, the song makes for an overall funky track that advocates seizing the day.
Yet Clayton-Felt fans might have difficulty finding the silver lining in other songs like "Deer in the Headlights" and "Dragon Fly" that aren't openly optimistic like "Invisible Tree." Pensive and a bit somber, these songs and seem to foreshadow the singer's death.
But without a doubt, Spirit Touches Ground is meant to be celebratory, not mournful. Funky and full of life, the album leaves fans a musical portrait of Josh Clayton-Felt that's full of love and hope.
By Jenise Hudson
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.