Elevate Difference

Baby

The sophomore set from the Texas-hailed band is a challenging listen that may tax some listeners due to the consistent, if sometimes, monotonous sound. Singer Mara Lee Miller has a strange, formless yowl that echoes such disparate influences as Billie Holliday and Janis Joplin as well as sharing sounds with contemporaries like Feist or Norah Jones. Her phrasing is often elastic and endearingly tuneless, yet there’s considerable timbre, remarkable for a singer so young. The end result is an indie record that has a distant relationship with jazz. 

The songs are based around some average to good piano work. The structures of the songs, much like Miller’s vocals, are a bit sprawling. While it’s an interesting sound, it doesn’t make for terribly catchy music, although listeners who stick by Miller’s work will be rewarded because her singing is interesting and intriguing. Her vocals on the record are tinny as if the studio she worked in had a cavernous ceiling and walls; there is a slight reverberation to her voice and a refreshing lack of studio sheen.

Much of the tunes are played a bit like a dirge and none of the record would be considered party music. When the songs do pick up a bit, such as “Whiskey Town” or “Train Song,” there is a much-needed, although strongly muted dose of whimsy that alleviates some of the somberness of the album. 

Baby isn’t a stellar record. Too much of it sounds alike, and after a few listens, the songs begin to bleed into each other. However, Miller’s voice is an eccentric and fascinating; one that deserves a chance.

Written by: Peter Piatkowski, May 12th 2009

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