Shine – Theresa Andersson
Basin Street Records 1001-2
I am not a fan of what currently passes for pop music. Laden with cute hooks, dull lyrics, and simple rhythms, modern pop music plays to the lowest common denominator, the rabid MTV-driven consumer. I find this trend of dumbing-down compositions to be incredibly offensive to anyone who appreciates a finely-crafted song. The pop world has moved far beyond the art of songcraft and is now nestled snugly in the warm bosom of superficial celebrity and image consciousness. Roll over Beatles and meet the next Britney Spears clone.
Even more infuriating than the rapid descent of pop music is the current trend of talented roots-oriented musicians who attempt to cater to the pop world. These are skilled artists who consciously decide to stoop down and woo the groundlings of the music industry. Sometimes artists make this choice in pursuit of the almighty dollar, but sometimes they choose this path in a bizarre quest for inexplicable artistic fulfillment. It can be thoroughly frustrating to watch one of your favorite live bands produce a schlocky album in a campaign to penetrate Clear Channel's stranglehold on Top 40 radio. Sometimes you just want to smack these musicians and bring them back to their senses, but usually, one or two lame attempts at a pop album drives them back to their beloved roots.
Swedish-born violinist Theresa Andersson's career received a major kickstart when she was asked to backup fellow countryman Anders Osborne on a tour of his homeland. Osborne had been a New Orleans resident for quite some time, drawing on the various musical influences that run rampant in the Mississippi Delta. Following his tour of Sweden, Osborne asked Andersson to accompany him back to New Orleans, and a whole new world opened up for the violinist. Gigging with and dating Osborne for the next nine years, Osborne became heavily influenced by the multitude of sounds in the Crescent City. Along the way, her unique violin and vocals put her heavily in demand within the New Orleans recording scene, accompanying the likes of Galactic, Cowboy Mouth, Marva Wright, and others. A personal and professional split with Osborne eventually yielded a new interest in songwriting, and she self-released a successful R&B album, No Regrets, in 2002. Now she returns to the recording forefront with Shine, an aggressive album that courts a pop audience. Uh-oh. Here we go again…
You know, sometimes it's rather refreshing to be proved wrong, and I'd like to thank Theresa Andersson for serving up the humble pie in the form of a surprisingly good album. After listening to Shine several times, something interesting happens. The catchy songs seem to stick in your brain, and the lyrics begin to assume more depth as time passes. Songs that appear to be impossibly simple slowly reveal intricacies that draw the listener closer. Moreover, angst-ridden lyrics appear to be paradoxically uplifting. Yes, this album initially seems to be rather base, but then it becomes a bit puzzling before ultimately teetering on the precipice of profundity.
With her distinct, even voice, Andersson creates an inimitably sultry sound. Much of her lyrical content revolves around a sort of sexual awakening/female empowerment theme which is sure to go over well in the grrl community. However, it would be foolish to dismiss this album as an uber-feminist manifesto. A downtrodden song like "Lie To Me," shows the frailty of her psyche and her willingness to live life on her own terms in lyrics, such as "Run for refuge, turn to the trees, eat them apples and do as you please." Furthermore, the title track is bright and uplifting without laying blame at the feet of anyone. With a driving bounce, the song is aptly titled and evokes the image of a butterfly being coaxed out of its cocoon.
The two most powerful compositions on the album were not written by Andersson, but thematically, they fit perfectly. Osborne's "It's Gonna Be OK," is a wonderful acoustic ballad with great production work that features a hauntingly placed drum machine. The vocals of Andersson, with backup by Osborne and Jon Cleary, sponge up every ounce of emotion from the powerful lyrics, creating a beautifully gut-wrenching but simple and uplifting message. Conversely, the closing track, Grayson Capps' "Lorraine's Song" is a mournful back-porch delta blues number, featuring captivating dobro work from Sonny Landreth. Andersson's vocals shed her previous bravado and opt for a more angelic and na quality as she assumes the character of a woman looking back on the choices she made and the love she lost in the process. Landreth's dobro, Shayne Theriot's classical guitar, and Capps' harmony vocals work magic in little more than four minutes to turn a sad song into a inspirational conclusion to the album.
Overall, it would have been nice to hear more of Andersson's violin work, but this album appears to be more of a showcase for her considerable vocal skills. At times, both the style of music and her subject matter make Theresa Andersson sound somewhat like Alanis Morissette with talent, but the primary difference is the quality of Andersson's songwriting. After a few spins, it's obvious these songs were not written in a quest to create a pop album. Rather the material was written and produced to stay true to Andersson's positive vision, and the result was an album that sounds suspiciously like the pop of years gone by. Perhaps that's why it grew on me so much. Humble Pie never tasted so good.