14 February 2011

2010: Ed Harcourt, Elizabeth Cook

Ed Harcourt
Released June 15, 2010 (Piano Wolf Recordings)

Short Notes: British Singer/Songwriter with another sometimes-pleasant addition to the overwrought genre.

Lin: B-

I blind-bought this one because, for some reason, I thought Ed Harcourt was the former frontman for 16 Horsepower, a band I like more often that not. He's not, not even close, but the decision was made with help of the album cover, which invokes a "country gothic" feeling, which is how I hoped the album would sound. It doesn't: what this is is a collection of singer/songwriter pop music. It appeals lyrically to my more melancholy and depressive nature, but Harcourt's singing lacks the gravitas or world-weariness that the best sad-sack music has. In the end, it sounds more like he's playing at pathos instead of really feeling (or at least channeling) it. But it works, sometimes, more or less, on individual tracks, making perfect mixtape fodder: "Killed By The Morning Sun" and "Lustre" being the most promising.

Brandon: C+

This is a lush pop record with a vague British accent. For the most part, it’s an entirely pleasant, if occasionally overwrought (the drippy piano ballad “Lachrymostly”) album that fans of bands like the Dresden Dolls would probably enjoy just fine. For me, I’d agree with Lin: there are a few songs here I’d be happy to hear again (I liked the catchy, propulsive “Secret Society"), but when it veers towards the maudlin (as it often does), it’s pretty forgettable.

Elizabeth Cook
Released May 11, 2010 (31 Tigers)

Short Notes: Nashville reject=pretty good alt. country record

Lin: B

I was wrong in the past couple of reviews where I've said albums had a "classic country" sound -- Doug Paisley, for instance, is nowhere near as "classic country" sounding as Elizabeth Cook. Maybe it's just her register and some of the themes, but many of these tracks remind me of something Dolly Parton would sing. This is both a blessing and a curse, though more the latter: Cook isn't as skilled as Parton and I'm not a huge fan of Dolly. Still, the best tracks here are those that skew closer to melancholy alt country, specifically "Not California," "Rock N Roll Man," and "Follow You Like Smoke." Like the Ed Harcourt album, it works better as a collection of songs than as an album, but that's not to say that it's not worth checking out for country fans.

Brandon: B

This record isn’t as solid top to bottom as the Caitlin Rose album we reviewed last month, but when you cover the Frankie Miller class “Black Land Farmer” (one of my top 20 all time songs, and part of the epic “500 Greatest Country Singles of All Time,”) I cut you some slack. Like Lin says, this record is probably the closest thing to mainstream Nashville country we’ve reviewed thus far. And that makes sense: Cook appeared on the Grand Ole Opry in 2000, and did a couple of major label Nashville records at the beginning of the decade. This record bears the mark of a former mainstreamer, with strings, relatively lush production (Don Was manned the board), and a couple of corny mis-steps (“Yes to Booty,” “Snake in the Bed”). But for the most part, this record walks a perfectly enjoyable line between Lucinda Williams and Miranda Lambert, with a couple of genuinely affecting songs that, like Lin said, wouldn’t be out of the question as Dolly Parton songs (“I’ll Never Know,” “Mama’s Funeral”). It’s worth a listen, but get the Caitlin Rose record first.

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