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Michelle Branch - Hotel Paper


Review: Jack Foley

DISPLAYING a maturity beyond her tender 19 years of age, Michelle Branch returns with the follow-up to her debut success, The Spirit Room, in fine style.

Teaming up with producer, John Shanks (BB Mak) and mixer, Chris Lord-Alge (Jewel, Faith Hill), Branch opts for a harder, more aggressive edge, and triumphs as a result, turning out a record that provides the perfect showcase for her singer/songwriting skills, while also helping to establish her a million miles away from the wimpish pop crap churned out by countless manufactured artists.

Described by Rolling Stone as one of a new breed of singers - or Girls Who Like to Sing (along with Norah Jones and Vanessa Carlton, or even Avril Lavgine, for that matter) - it becomes immediately apparent that Branch possesses a voice on her.

Stretching her vocal chords whenever she can, the album may end up being a somewhat business-like approach to her particular style of songwriting, but there are enough positives to suggest that Branch has a long career ahead of her.

Hence, tracks such as the first single, Are You Happy Now?, surprise by their maturity, chronicling a relationship which, by Branch's own admission, took an unexpected turn. Apparently, it is a track that 'anyone who has been stomped on' can relate to - rather like the Alanis Morisette style of songwriting.

But tracks such as this and Find Your Way Back possess an infectious quality that's ultimately hard not to like.

The album becomes a little more turgid during the slower ballads, with the piano-based One of These Days seeming ideally suited to the US teen market, or Dawson's Creek viewing crowd. They sound pretty much like anyone could have written them, and do little to broaden her appeal.

Yet the duet with Sheryl Crow, Love Me Like That, marks a gutsy, country-tinged return to form, with some smart guitar, and a really well-observed turn from Crow.

It is credit to Branch - whose debut album has sold in excess of a million copies in the US alone, and has been the longest running Billboard Top 100 record of the last 18 months - that she can already attract an artist of the stature of Crow at such a young age.

As she told HMV: "It sounds too good to be true, but John and I had the song and felt that it needed another voice. We picked up the phone, called Sheryl, and she came down an hour later."

Other tracks to watch out for include the single-quality, Breathe and Everywhere, the Third Eye Blind-inspired Where Are You Now?, and the dream-like 'Til I Get Over You.

And with her massive collaboration with Santana, Game of Love, cropping up as one of two bonus tracks, this should provide every Branch fan with everything they could possibly wish for in a record.

It just remains to be seen how long Hotel Paper remains in the Billboard Top 100. But, it's well worth checking in.

Track listing:
1. Intro
2. Are You Happy Now?
3. Find Your Way Back
4. Empty Handed
5. Tuesday Morning
6. One Of These Days
7. Love Me Like That
8. Desperately
9. Breathe
10. Where Are You Now?
11. Hotel Paper
12. 'Til I Get Over You
13. Everywhere (Bonus Track)
14. The Game Of Love (Bonus Track)
15. It's You

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