POWERFUL PIPES Clara Berry.
While much of Clara Berry’s new EP, Creature, is alluring and captivating, the first 45 seconds of her “Siren” might be the best 45 seconds recorded this year. Matt Ianotti, a UMass-Lowell-trained recording engineer, did a wonderful job of capturing Berry’s vocals, which are sultry and powerful, yes, but also absolutely exquisitely crisply delivered. Her genius is in her glottal stops, her aspirated Ts, her rumbling growl. Some mastering jobs might round off the edges, but here they are punctuation marks that provide important information, indeed.
“Just because you’re feeling low, and I am here/Does not mean I want to be/Your picture-perfect, damsel dear/Who licks your wounds,” and it gets better, Berry mixing Norah Jones and Jolie Holland and getting a playful lilt into a throaty husk, accompanying herself on piano and a captivating hum, and finishing the opening salvo in a piercing falsetto. What it builds to from there — strings, a Catwoman-vamp, Bougainvillea-tinged saxophone — is very nice. But I want to put that first 45 seconds in my pocket and be able to bring it out and peek at it every 15 seconds.
It doesn’t come as a surprise, either. The Sarah Vaughan-like scat that opens “Corner Child” and the disc is a grab-you-by-the-throat introduction and Berry never lets you forget that she can flat-out sing. She’s the first singer in a long time about whom I’ve felt I absolutely had to see her live after hearing her recorded work. I’m completely at her command.
But her band helps. Jesse Robichaud’s drums are subtle and know when to stay out of the way. On viola and cello, Theresa Cleary and Michael Coelho build tension and mood expertly. Berry is surrounded by a halo of gauzy muslin. Her training wasn’t bad, either, coming from Cerberus Shoal’s and Fire on Fire’s Tom Kovacevic.
As a closer, the beginning to “Suzanne’s Lament” is a “Siren” reprise, but Berry sings over Robichaud’s upright bass instead and this time the protagonist is more plaintive: “You feed him tea and oranges/Pray he never finds the door,” and while “He thinks that you’re half-crazy/And by that he is intrigued,” in the end “You’re just a girl that he is loving/Desperately.” That “he is loving” construction, with emphasis on the tenuous state of affairs, is the kind of small touch that separates this EP from standard singer-songwriter fare.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CREATURE | Released by Clara Berry | with Amanda Gervasi | at the North Star Music Café, in Portland | June 24 | www.reverbnation.com/claraberry