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(independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 10/26/2011)
With so many singer-songwriters on the scene, an artist needs some distinguishing characteristic to stand out, preferably in the way of originality and level of quality, rather than just being quirky. Sometimes it helps to have an interesting background.
This week, we have an artist who has both. It's Rosi Golan and her new second album is called Lead Balloon.
Rosi Golan was born in Israel, and unlike many performers who are consumed by music at an early age, Ms. Golan did not show any particularly strong interest in music though her teens. In 2001, at the age of 19, she had just lost her grandmother and it was shortly after September 11. She was driving around one day in a funk, when she heard a radio ad for a guitar store. On a whim, she headed there and bought a guitar, not knowing how to play, and selecting it because she liked the color. But it wasn't long before she took to it and began songwriting, usually in partnership with others. That eventually led to her debut album, The Drifter and the Gypsy, which attracted the attention of TV producers who included some of her songs in TV series, such as "One Tree Hill" and some feature films. That led to an international tour in the US and Europe. Those settings inspired the songs on the new record.
For the new CD Lead Balloon she enlisted producer Tony Berg, who has worked with Aimee Mann among others, and Ms Golan collaborated with some of the same songwriting partners as on her last album. Berg added musical and sonic eclecticism, and the result is an intelligent and fairly wide-ranging recording that runs from old nostalgic sounds from the pre-rock era, to hints of alternative rock, to acoustic folk-influenced, and even some country twang. The mixture of styles is well-handled, and though wide-ranging, is not jarring. There is often a whimsical quality to the sound. The songs are a mix of lyrically happy ones with several songs of parting or missing someone.
The personnel on the CD is rather variable. The Los-Angeles-made recording has a cast that changes from track to track. Frequently heard is producer Berg who plays various keyboards and bass. A notable guest is David Rawlings, Gillian Welch's musical partner, who plays his distinctive arch-top guitar on one song.
Leading off is one of the more appealing pop-style songs on the CD, Paper Tiger, whose co-writer is Natalie Hemby. It has the elements of a wide-appeal pop song but with some interesting twists. <<>>
You and I is another example of the intelligent pop side of this CD. The co-writer is Johnny McDaid on this hummable love song. <<>>
David Rawlings makes his appearance on a track called Flicker. Rawlings' distinctive guitar gives the song a kind of melancholy quality. One Ms. Golan's co-writers on this song is Jason Reeves, a talented young popster whose own CD we reviewed in 2007. <<>>
As the Lead Balloon goes on, the musical arrangements tend to get more eclectic. A song simply called I Like You has a kind of old-time pre-rock quality with its prominent ukulele. The musical treatment is a good match for the rather old-fashioned romantic lyrics. <<>>
The title track, Lead Balloon is one of the CD's highlights. It's another co-write with Natalie Hemby. Ms. Golan says the lyrics came out of a bad day she was having. It's also an interesting mix of musical influences, with an almost tropical feel punctuated with a bit of country steel guitar. <<>>
The CD's folky side comes out on a song called Say It Anyway, co-written with Martin Sjolie. It's a rather sad-sounding breakup song. <<>>
Likewise with an acoustic-guitar-dominated sound is Seeing Ghosts, co-written with Iain Archer, who unlike most of Ms. Golan's other co-writers, does appear on the track. <<>>
Also with an appearance by the co-writer is Can't Go Back, with Natalie Hemby joining in the very appealing vocal harmonies. With its simple acoustic arrangement with added banjo, it's another of the CD's highlights.
Rosi Golan's new second release Lead Balloon is an attractive and enjoyably wide-ranging singer-songwriter recording that includes intelligent songs, about half sad and about half positive. Ms Golan co-wrote each one with a different collaborator or two, something that is a frequent practice in Nashville, though this is a Los Angeles project. Ms. Golan's fine vocals are another strong point, along with the well-handled, often-interesting arrangements and the production by Tony Berg. It's not hard to find something to like about this CD, and several of the songs are likely to stick with you.
My one complaint about the recording is the crummy audio quality. It's a prime example of the brain-dead approach to loudness wars on CD, cranking up everything until the sound has no life at all. Ms. Golan's softest vocals are exactly the same maxed-out volume as her strongest vocals, and everything has an unpleasant in-your-face sound.
Sonic considerations notwithstanding Rosi Golan's Lead Balloon is anything but what its title would suggest.
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