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Amber deLaurentis: Innocent Road
by George Graham
(Independent release as broadcast on WVIA-FM 2/5/2020)
Singer-songwriters whose instrument is the piano tend to be a breed different from the classic folkie with an acoustic guitar. The with an acoustic guitar. The manner of playing and the basic physics of the instrument tends to inspire composers in different ways, sometimes with jazz influence, or a touch of classical or even boogie-woogie. This week we have a new recording by a singer-songwriter pianist whose influence tends toward jazz, though she is able classical pianist. Her name is Amber deLaurentis, and her new release, her fourth under her own name is called Innocent Road.
Amber deLaurentis is originally from New Jersey and grew up in a musical family. Her parents played together in a cover band called Lefty, which she became part of, and she credits her father’s eclectic musical tastes and record library for her rather wide-ranging musical interests. At Hampshire College in 1992, she began writing with lyricist Sarah Blue, whom she had known since third grade. The two worked out of Philadelphia for some 15 years, releasing three albums together. DeLaurentis also worked playing keyboards in rock bands and for folk artists like Deirdre Flint. In 2002 she moved to Vermont, taking a job teaching vocal jazz at the University of Vermont, and co-directing the college’s vocal jazz ensemble. There she met another keyboard player Tom Cleary, and formed a jazz group called Birdcode. DeLaurentis also married Cleary and they work together on Ms. DeLaurentis’ new album. She is also part of a vocal trio called Blue Gardenias, and regularly performs classical piano.
The new album Innocent Road features those influences, with the jazzy side prominent, and there are some chamber-classical style orchestral arrangements.
Ms. deLaurentis vocal style is definitely toward jazz, with a clear, precise technique and excellent pitch, but with a warm inviting quality, while on some songs she runs toward some soul influence. The arrangements are very much keyboard-oriented, with a guitar appearing on only three of the eight tracks of this fairly brief 35 minute album. Most of the lyrics are by collaborator Sarah Blue, and have the generally literate quality of good singer-writer material. Subjects run from the beginning or end of a love affair to living dangerously.
Opening is a song called Passing Cloud, one of the soul-influenced arrangements. The lyrics, seemingly about an affair that did not work out, fit the arrangement well. <<>>
Living dangerously is the subject of the perhaps the most rock-oriented track on the album You Ran the Red Light. The band rises to the occasion. <<>>
The title track Innocent Road highights the jazzy side of Ms. DeLaurentis, in both the construction of the song and her vocal style. <<>>
Even jazzier, and one of the highlights of the album, is Close to Me, with her husband Tom Cleary on the piano. <<>>
Sunset Already features one of the more distinctive musical settings, with some jazz and hints of classical influence in the context of its lyrics hinting at the unraveling of a relationship. <<>>
Also showing some roots and soul influence is A Couple of Aches about dealing with what life serves up. <<>>
The album ends with Little Autumn Moon, which with its elaborate arrangement including the strings, has the quality that hints at a song from a theatrical musical. <<>>
Innocent Road the new release by Vermont-based singer-songwriter-pianist Amber deLaurentis is an enjoyable, very tasteful album of thoughtful original songs with jazz tinge. With Ms. DeLaurentis teaching vocal jazz on a college level, that sort of influence is not unexpected, but there are other facets to the album, including a little soul, roots and classical influence. One thing it is not is folky acoustic-guitar strumming with three-chord songs. The arrangements, though with relatively small groups, feature enough added guests to make it sonically interesting with for example some strings and an English horn.
Our grade for sound quality is close to an “A” with the recording having good clarity and a clean open sound. Ms. DeLaurentis’ vocals are treated well with a warm, unfettered sound.
Pianist-singer-songwriters are a breed apart from your typical folkie, and Amber deLaurentis creates music with the articulate lyrics of a good folkie, in a pleasing, wide-ranging musical setting. Innocent Road is an altogether classy album.
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