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
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.
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
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