What happens when you take the acoustic base from Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall and merge them with the breeziness of Sheryl Crow, the frankness of Regina Spektor and the subtle crackling grit of Vanessa Carlton and Sara Bareilles? That would be in the form of yet another emerging singer-songwriter from the state of Texas, Erin McCarley and expect to hear all mentioned in her major label debut, 'Love, Save The Empty' (Universal). The emerging star-in-the-making has already made her mark known on TV with her music being featured on ABC Family powerhouse 'Kyle XY' and the equally ABC powerhouse drama 'Grey's Anatomy'.
Many critics liken Erin to Sara Bareilles, Fiona Apple, or Sheryl Crow, but I believe she does have all their influences in her music, but she might be the American answer to KT Tunstall and also competition to fellow American Anna Nalick, who crafts similar fare on her albums. Both share the need to be powerfully honest without really rubbing it in your face and both pen lyrics that speak not to just your face, but your soul. But McCarley also fuses in a heavy helping of electronica, which probably will end up setting her apart from the glut of acoustic singer-songwriters.
The album begins with the obviously radio-friendly 'Pony (It's OK)'. The song almost sounds and crafted similar to Sara Bareilles' 'Love Song' but with a more subtle edge and bite. The next song I'm going to need help with...'Blue Suitcase' seems to be sampling a well-known Motown song's refrain tune's 2-3 bars throughout the song. 'Sticky-Sweet' is a rather playful number, almost something you could dance to or at least move your foot to and the song style is very similar to KT Tunstall, with the lower register of McCarley's voice dominating throughout to a point where you almost think its KT singing. The horn section gives the song a nice touch and keeps the song from being a standard pop song.
'Lovesick Mistake' is a shockingly honest portrait about someone getting over exactly over the song title. The whole song crackles with a subtle power and it's hard to believe someone so young could write a song like this. This song will grab at you from the start to the end.
The second half of the album sees McCarley coming out of the acoustic pop/rock shell and she starts to truly merge it with other musical landscapes such as 'Hello/Goodbye'. The song begins with an almost pitter-patter syncopation accompanied by a string section and the lilting harp which then transitions into a catchy melodic electric guitar and drum-driven refrain. And speaking of pitter-patter, 'Pitter-Pat' is definitely a key track one must listen to. Anyone can write a breakup song, but most choose to title it in obvious ways, but McCarley not only chose to title it as the sound of a heartbeat, but also use a bass drum in the percussion section to simulate the heartbeat of someone who is picking up their lives after a breakup. The lyrics in the song have a subtle power to them thanks to Erin's voice never really soaring above the song or going below the song. She is very introspect in that regard, almost right out of Sheryl Crow's playbook.
'Sleepwalking' is a very interesting track on the album. Wish it would be a bit closer to the beginning of the album...the song has an action movie-type beginning but then transitions into themes many opening numbers from the James Bond movie series have with the drum groove and the rolling guitar strings. 'Bobble Head' has a surf feel to it, almost something one would be playing during a road trip driving on the 5 in California (That would be Interstate 5 for those who don't know).
The album overall is a must-listen to kick off 2009. Even though the album has been out in digital form since last December, physical copies did not come out till January 6. Yes, she joins a long list of young female singer-songwriters that have cluttered the landscape but like Arden Kaywin, Erin has managed to find a way to perhaps catapult herself a cloth above the rest and it is very obvious she does that in the second half of the album when she gets away from pure acoustic pop/rock and starts to explore other sounds and musical landscapes. But don't get me wrong, the first half was good as well because despite the fact the lyrics are a bit darker for the genre, she injects a kind of energy and crackle you wouldn't expect from subtle dark themes.
Alan Ho is the chief head at Musiqtone.com. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out this feedback form below.