The two sides of Marie Moreshead

Thought I knew you
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  January 5, 2011

BALANCING Marie Moreshead keeps some of her EP sound, and explores new turf, in her first full-length disc.
To this point, Marie Moreshead has made her bones as a sweet-voiced singer/songwriter with a lot of promise based on 2008's The Distraction EP and 2009's Birdwatchers EP. The former of which was impressive enough to make it so the latter featured a Pete Kilpatrick guest turn on the catchy "Hello There" (and a genuinely terrific song in "Permanent Kind").

Simply put, the short form is working for Moreshead.

Maybe that's why, when it came time for her self-titled full-length debut, she decided to split the album in half, with a "Part 1" full of songs given the band treatment thanks to studio musicians rounded up with producer Jonathan Wyman and a "Part 2" that features just Moreshead and her guitar, recorded by Wyman in an old house in Harpswell. These parts could easily have been intermingled, some of the second-half songs given some gussying up, but their separation adds a little interest and intrigue to the 10-song, 33-minute album, which can't be a bad thing.

Essentially, there's only so much a gal and her guitar can do. As listeners, we either need to be completely floored or genuinely surprised in order for the singer/songwriter album not to waft pleasantly in one ear and out the other.

The album's organization? A nice surprise.

The album's first song, "In My Dreams"? I was pretty dang floored. Ready for Moreshead's crystalline and playful lilt, I wasn't paying much attention to the volume and was just about kicked in the head by the rhythm section, which fires in like a Spoon track, all kinds of sexed up and sultry, a great contrast to Moreshead's virginal persona and delivery. Doug van Sloun's mastering work might have helped here, too. With a lot of experience with the Saddle Creek label out in Omaha, he knows how to make acoustic-heavy albums particularly immediate.

The chorus here is surprisingly pop, but is kept from getting too sun-shiney by a terrifically dark and low-down guitar break from Pat Lynch (from the Distraction disc, too) buffeted by Brenda's DJ Moore on drums (he knows about working with a chanteuse, having also laid down tracks for Lady Lamb the Beekeeper's upcoming full-length).

"Love Yourself" embraces that pop completely, with Moreshead adopting more of a delicate delivery, an old-time Doris Day demureness. It's a little corny, maybe, with the "you gotta la la la love yourself" chorus, but she's so elegant and sparkling it's hard to argue with the result. Karl Anderson also returns from the Distraction disc to bang out some nice piano here, while Lynch later comes in with some banjo to lend a hurdy-gurdy feel that keeps things from being too saccharine.

A pedal steel, though, in "No Turning Back" maybe jumps the shark. Opening sparkly like winter light coming through a window past new-fallen snow (with lyrics to match: "we got blue skies/We got sunshine for miles and miles"), the song is muddied by the pedal steel's whine. Does this want to be a country song? A pop country song? It feels conflicted, despite the sing-along chorus.

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  Topics: CD Reviews , Doris Day, Gillian Welch, Pete Kilpatrick,  More more >
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