Album Review: Jessica Lanza – Little Sister EP

Has anyone seen the movie The One?

In it, Jet Li has to do battle with his alternate reality counterpart, an evil criminal who has been killing off the other versions in order to gain their strength and eventually become the most powerful man in the Universe, which he’ll do at last by defeating his goodie two-shoes counterpart. It’s a pretty good flick.

The point I’m getting at by referencing this film is that, much like the way this particular universe is organized, there seems to be a great deal of female singer-songwriters who are so identical, we might as well get this ultimate battle for supremacy on PPV and watch the buy-rates explode. But if your Regina Spektor’s of the world are clearly the axe-kicking Jet Li’s, then Jessica Lanza has shown herself to be somewhere in the middle of the pack with her EP, Little Sister.

When one thinks of female singer-songwriters, for good or bad, people think of them as being emotionally aware, utilizing effervescent vocals, and for possibly leaning toward more folk and/or acoustic traditions. Clearly, I’m speaking in huge, broad terms, but there is a certain commonality between the sounds of many, not all, female singer-songwriters. As well, it should be noted that the same could be said for the men, but it seems to be more observable with the ladies, especially since anything that doesn’t fit that norm often encounters resistance by a majority of the listening public.

With that said, a lot of what Lanza delivers is your fairly standard cuts from a sensitive, folksy lady musician; take “At Home And All Alone”. From the simple piano to the near-existent drumming, the slowed, minimal pace creates a very predictable sense of forlorn. The problem is that Lanza’s vocals and instrumentation don’t do anything to take the baseline emotional status or the song’s overall aim and make it appealing, instead focusing on fulfilling a rather bland, center lane approach to being expressive. “How Could You” suffers from more constraint; here, livelier playing tries its best to pick up the song’s sentiment of feeling lost and abandoned but doesn’t quite achieve it thanks to a thoroughly stifled vocal performance.

There are moments, though, on the seven-song EP where Lanza does actually give listeners something of a notion that she’s got a fighting chance in the female singer-songwriter battle royal. The effort’s opener, “Time Is Such A Cruel Device”, feels warm and open, where the cynical joy and tinge of pain in Lanza’s voice is hard not to drink up. The standard piano line marries sweetly with the slightly bluegrass-ian instruments, making the song about a complicated relationship and the strains of time sound bittersweet and loads of fun. Acting as the perfect bookend, the closing track “Victim of Circumstance” features a barroom piano, creating a whiskey-soaked vibe with some of the finer, more varied vocal delivery, helped in part by a kind of theatrical spin on the whole thing and the creepy line “Oh, but she would’ve had beautiful babies”.

There’s no clear-cut way of telling whether or not Lanza can make it as a big name. This EP paints a picture of uncertainty, leaving the listener to hope that next release features  Lanza’s more open, experimental side and less of the same sounds and techniques we’ve heard again and again. Otherwise, that effort is getting spin-kicked into oblivion.

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