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

Monday, March 14, 2011

CD review - Catie Brandt, Runaway Sun (2010)

A new artist needs to find her voice. Which style, techniques, and songs feel right are the clues for discovering her strengths. Combining these withe the artist's unique character and quirks can become a map to creating her performing persona.

Catie Brandt seems like she's in the middle of that process on Runaway Sun. She's cast her net wide, varying the moods, the genres, and instrumentation from song to song. Some tracks click, showing off a strength to be honed and polished. Other tracks miss the mark, either because the parts conflict or they don't work for her voice.

The dreamier, introspective tracks work best, supporting her voice and staying in her vocal range. The wistful Night and Day has a loos retro feel that recalls Mama Cass Elliot's gentle crooning.The bass line is too high in the mix, but it does stay in line with the soul of the song.

Rise Up creates a nice balance between the tension of the song and her warm, thoughtful voice. The sparse arrangement and steady bass line provide a scaffold for her singing to flow naturally. The lead climax dominates the end section, but the setup groove persists and supports it. This was the strongest track on Runaway Sun.

Someone For Me may not be as strong an overall track as Rise Up, but its jazzy chanteuse style fits Brandt's voice the best. She sounds comfortable meandering through the tune and the piano arrangement sets the right rhythm and phrasing.

On the other side of Runaway Sun's experiment are the tracks that don't gel. Emily is a nice song, with a strong, upbeat shuffle propelling it forward. But the instruments eventually bury Brandt's vocals. The busy arrangement, the overly loud lead, and the rushed vocals overwhelm the song's good points.

Hit The Ground Running, the first track, pushes Brandt's voice too hard. It sounds challenging for her to sing as she has trouble holding pitch. She does bring a sense of desperation to match the dire lyrics, but the bouncy rhythm and cheery instrumentation undercut the mood.

So, Runaway Sun is a mixed bag. Some of that might arise from the origins of the album. The liner notes are unclear: Brandt's name is on the front cover, but the inside credits Jon and Cate Minus 8 (Catie Brandt and Jon Irizarry). A band trying to find its balance might account for the shifting feel between the songs and the less clear focus on Brandt's strengths.

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