As a Southern woman, I've been told from birth that if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. It's a mentality borne from equal parts charm and suppression, and one that is kind of antithetical to the whole business of review writing. In this case, though, I had to find the nicest thing to say about Massachusetts teen talent Kate Cameron and her debut seven-track EP, Conviction. Otherwise, I would have ended up with an empty review. So, in the name of graciousness and good manners, I finally came up with something.
Cameron seems like a perfectly nice young woman—and therein lies a turn of phrase as loaded as the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” Whatever their medium, no artist wants to be characterized in such bland terms right out of the gate. They would prefer to be spoken of as distinct, at least, if not as making some viable contribution to their chosen art form. But bless her sweet little heart, Kate Cameron's just not much to write home about—at least not yet.
On MySpace, Cameron lists as her influences a collection of radio-friendly adult contemporary artists from the last fifteen years or so, including Michelle Branch, Joss Stone, Colbie Caillat, and Alicia Keys. That list is a pretty good clue as to what the listener is in for with Conviction. While she shows a great deal of potential as a songwriter, Cameron's lyrics can veer from clever to hokey in a heartbeat. Plus, her developing voice, although decent, still sounds awkward, going out of tune when high notes or any kind of complex vocal gymnastics come into play.
A surefire way to render your song irrelevant is to link it to some topical or temporal event. This turns out to be the biggest mistake in “Big Star.” The song starts off fine, maybe a little generic, but then takes a turn for the worse somewhere around the bridge, where the adolescent artist trots out these ridiculous lyrics: “I'm gonna be a big star/just wait and see/the second I turn eighteen/I'm packing up and leaving.” I will admit, there's something to be said for confidence; however, there's also something to be said for not stamping your opening track with a very limited shelf life.
As an extended metaphor, “The Sun” redeems Cameron with its undeniable charm. “Words I Could Never Say” vacillates between moments of real passion and phoned-in (or even feigned) emotion. “All That You Are” is hammy, overwrought, wannabe radio schlock.
Maybe it's not her fault. The production quality is mediocre at best. The tracks echo and sound tinny even in good headphones, indicating that Cameron either recorded the album in a third-rate studio with poor soundproofing, that her album was engineered by someone with a weak ear, or both. Still, Conviction seems less like a polished sampling of Cameron's finest, and more like a demo reel tossed together at the last minute. With any luck, her music will improve and this release will be relegated to history—or see its tracks re-recorded in better studios with more proficient technicians at the soundboards.