(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

CD review - Vienna Teng, Inland Territory (2009)

Shallow comparisons are such a waste of time. If it's a male singer-songwriter with a guitar and obscure lyrics, he's the next Dylan. The slightly self-indulgent jam band is like Phish (or maybe the Grateful Dead). And, of course, a female singer-songwriter with a piano is emulating Tori Amos. In Vienna Teng's case, the mapping goes a little deeper because her vocal tone often mimics Amos and the backup vocal arrangements are similar. Still, she has her own approach, for better or worse.

On the positive side, Teng has done a good job of integrating in some electronic sounds and percussion. She also shifts gears and throws in some interesting old-timey sounding material. On the other hand, those gears can grind a bit when the transitions between songs don't work, such as the jump between the dreamy coasting of Kansas and the jaunty bounce of In Another Life. Either song is good on its own, but they break the flow of the album.

Another problem is that, while her voice is very pretty, it's also a bit detached and impersonal. Like Tori Amos, Vienna Teng uses that trick to contrast with more personal storytelling lyrics, but Amos often follows that up with a fierier song to prove her connection to the material and her audience.

The standout track here is Watershed. This starts out with a tentative solo piano start and cool ambient sounds. This section is very close to the Who's Love, Reign O'er Me, as reimagined by Tori Amos. Moody, it grows into a sense of majesty, much like the Who's song. The flow is gripping: waves break before a confident, defiant island, then the waves come again. The link here is for a live version with a fairly long, detached, ironic intro.

There are other decent songs on the album. White Light has a Suzanne Vega feel on the verse, but a catchier, poppy chorus. Stray Italian Greyhound has jerky piano rhythm that lurches forward as it intrigues the ear. None stand out as much as Watershed, though.

Inland Territory is a Long Island ice tea of an album: there's a lot going on here, but it's not for everyone.

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