Sara Bareilles: Kaleidoscope Heart

RIYL: Norah Jones, Sarah McLachlan, Alicia Keys

51cQrILhADL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1] There’s a school of thought that says it’s better to aim low and hit your target than shoot for the moon and waste all your ammo, and Sara Bareilles’ Kaleidoscope Heart is a fine example of that principle in action. An album that lays out a limited set of goals and achieves them all with undeniable flair, Kaleidoscope Heart should find itself glued into MOR piano pop lovers’ media players for months — and it might even throw off enough winsome sparks to make begrudging believers out of folks who are ordinarily bored to tears by this sort of stuff.

All of which is to Bareilles’ immense credit, because her biggest hit to date, “Love Song,” was one of the most overplayed singles of 2007; only Colbie Caillat’s toxic “Bubbly” exerted more of a candle-scented hold over VH1 and the adult end of the Top 40 that year. By all rights, Kaleidoscope Heart should be a fumbling, self-conscious set, but Bareilles has an uncommonly strong grasp of her strengths as an artist, and she plays directly to them here with track after tasteful track. It’s true that her songs occupy a rather limited musical/emotional bandwidth — a mid-tempo track here, a ballad there, a tongue-in-cheek up-tempo number or two for good measure — but they do it with style. A lot of Bareilles’ peers sound like they’re cynically pandering to their demographic, but she comes across as though she really means what she’s saying; there’s a natural, conversational feel to her songs, and while the album isn’t anyone’s idea of gritty, producer Neil Avron keeps things radio-friendly without drowning the tracks in gloss.

Like eating an entire can of Pringles, listening to Kaleidoscope Heart might be something you’re ashamed to do in public — but dammit, Pringles taste good sometimes, and there isn’t a track on this album that doesn’t go down easy. A few more albums like this one, and Sara Bareilles might even make adult contemporary music cool again. (Epic 2010)

Sara Bareilles MySpace page


Molly Jenson: Maybe Tomorrow

Do you find it hard to keep track of how many VH-1 “You Oughta Know” type singer/songwriters there are? You know, that wispy alt-pop thing – think Sara Bareilles, Erin McCarley and the like. Well, don’t look now, here comes another one; Nettwerk’s latest signing, Molly Jenson, with her debut, Maybe Tomorrow. Try as you may to dislike it, Jenson’s sultry voice and more than pleasant melodies will keep you listening. Sure, it sounds like everything else the genre is putting out, but let’s face it – these songs don’t write themselves. Jenson and writing partner Greg Laswell have crafted a fine effort of pop tunes and if you’d rather not lump her into the current crop of female singer/songwriters, consider that she could be a young Aimee Mann, bending falsetto and all. On the title track and as well as on “Beginning Here,” there is this perpetual feeling of being dragged along through a thick fog – she gets you to where you’re going, but you may struggle to enjoy the ride. But then, Jenson is at her best when she throws some hip swagger in, as she does on “Thinking of You” and “Alongside You,” as well as the simply beautiful guitar and vocal track, “Wait For You Here.” (LABEL: Nettwerk)

Molly Jenson MySpace Page


Various Artists: The Hotel Cafe Presents Winter Songs

Like a VH-1 dream lineup, The Hotel Café in Los Angeles is presenting Winter Songs, a collection of both original and classic holiday tunes by today’s hottest female artists. The Epic Records release is a benefit for the Susan G. Komen For the Cure, and it also benefits anyone who has the chance to hear it. Among some of the best original holiday songs in years are the unofficial title track, “Winter Song,” by Sara Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson, and Colbie Caillat’s stunning “Mistletoe.” Some of the classics are predictable and a bit pedestrian, such as KT Tunstall’s take on “Sleigh Ride” or Priscialla Ahn’s wispy take on “Silent Night.” But Fiona Apple’s “Frosty The Snowman” and Katy Perry’s “White Christmas” are throwback versions to a bygone era, and show something you may not have known – that they both can sing very well. Taken as a whole, this is one of the more unique and semi-awesome holiday albums to be released in quite some time, and the cause should give you that much more of a reason to pick it up. (Epic)

Hotel Cafe website


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