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