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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1606

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Erin Bode: Photograph
by George Graham

(Independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 8/11/2010)

Singer-songwriters represent a wide-ranging category. Many are in the traditionally folk-oriented direction, while others are rockers, blues artists, or even techno-influenced. There are also singer-songwriters who bring some jazz sensibility. This week we have a new recording from an artist who started out largely doing jazz standards, and has since become an eclectic singer-songwriter on whose new CD jazz influence is just a small part. She is Erin Bode, and her new release is called Photograph.

The daughter of a Lutheran minister, who emphasized music in his family, Erin Bode grew up in Minnesota, and then went on to college near St. Louis, where she began to attract attention. At Webster College she majored in foreign languages and classical music, but gravitated toward jazz. Her instrument was the trumpet. By 2001, she began her recording career, and in the mid-2000s, she recorded a couple of CDs for the St. Louis-based MaxJazz label, including one called Over and Over in 2006 which we reviewed in this series. She featured original songs, plus a couple of standards, and some creative arrangements of a pop tunes or two. On the new recording, Photograph now her fifth release, she pretty much makes the transition to singer-songwriter with no covers this time, and a guitar-based group, rather than the piano-oriented sound of some of her previous work. The songs are interesting both musically and lyrically, with most being variations on the love song.

Ms. Bode has a wonderful clear voice, with dead-on pitch. and a pleasing, low-keyed style. She is joined by some long-time musical colleagues, some of whom go back to her college days, including Adam Maness, whose main instrument on this CD is the guitar, rather than the piano that was heard on Over and Over. Syd Rodway is featured on bass and Derek Phillips, mainly on drums, with Mark Colenburg on drums on a few of the tracks. They recorded the CD in a cabin in far Northern Minnesota.

Ms. Bode is getting to be a very good songwriter, writing together with Maness songs that span moods and styles, and have lots of engaging touches. The influences on the new CD range from folky to almost spacey to even hinting at 70s disco. Though the group is small, there are a number of interesting sonic facets, such the unexpected appearance of a banjo a couple of tunes, and some influence from 1980s electronic pop. Despite being a bit of a pastiche, the result is uniformly tasteful.

Leading off is a track called The Mountain, which is a good example of the CD's eclecticism. It's got a bit of a rock beat and what sounds like a vintage electric guitar together with bits of banjo. <<>>

Heart of Mine is a mild surprise compared to her earlier work. The techno-influenced sound seems unlikely for Ms. Bode, but the band handles it well. <<>>

A song called To Lose is a highlight of the CD. The track is engaging all around, from the composition and lyrics to the shifting sonic colors. <<>>

More folky in sound is November a kind of lost-love song. <<>>

A track called Stephanie Moore is another stylistic departure. The song has a more pop-oriented sound hinting at old-fashioned disco with some added electronics. It's a fairly interesting song, but it's one instance of the musical setting being a bit too scattered. <<>>

On the other hand, one of the most distinctive and creative tracks is The Letter, which features a marimba setting off its rather melancholy lyrics. <<>>

The title piece Photograph with its folky acoustic guitar setting, gives us a chance to hear Ms. Bode's charming vocals up close, on this introspective-sounding song. <<>>

A further distinctive and appealing song is called Telescope, which uses the astronomical instrument as a kind allegory. <<>>

Erin Bode's new CD Photograph is another fine recording from this Midwestern singer-songwriter who gravitated to the style from an earlier career singing jazz standards. Her classy vocals, which stood her in good stead while performing jazz, add much to this recording, giving her performances greater depth and charm than most singer-songwriters on the scene. With her musical partner Adam Maness, she adds interesting arrangement and compositional touches to the songs that gives them the some of the musical substance one would expect from jazz tunes, while the generally understated but interesting arrangements make this a recording that reveals something new in subtle ways, upon each hearing.

Our grade for sound quality is a "B." The recording and mix are well-handled and might have provided the subtlety that the music itself offers, but it's the same old story of ham-handed overuse of volume compression in a herd-mentality attempt to fight in a loudness war. It robs the recording of most its dynamics and adds some distortion to Ms. Bode's vocals.

The singer-songwriter genre has lots of practitioners, but it's a musical style that has yet to be fully tapped. Erin Bode on her new CD is a standout in a crowded field.

(c) Copyright 2010 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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