We’ve all been through romantic situations where “should have known better” comes to mind. We make mistakes, but often pray we won’t become defined by them. This is a playlist full of songs which ride that roller coaster from the highs of first love to the lows of wishing we’d just said no before having one’s heart ripped to shreds became a legitimate possibility. Highlights include “Flowers,” from Anais Mitchell’s acclaimed Hadestown folk-opera, “Homage for the Suffering” from a stunningly under-appreciated Matthew Perryman Jones effort, and “El Matador,” one of the best soMngs from Semisonic I can almost guarantee you’ll never have heard. That, and you can expose yourself to a number of artists on the edge of fame who sorely deserve a wider audience — Meaghan Smith deserves to be mentioned as one of the stronger “vaudeville pop” vocalists working the pop scene, and Diane Birch’s “Fire Escape” sorely needs a cult following.
Year of the Album — #027
Vanessa Carlton – “Rabbits on the Run” (2011, Razor & Tie)
“You’ve got a knife-throwing kind of love,” Vanessa Carlton sings on “London,” the third track off her fourth studio album Rabbits on The Run, which is due out June 21st on Razor & Tie. And it’s immediately clear on this album that Carlton’s not afraid to throw a few knives herself. Cutting to the bone, these ten razor-sharp diary entries bring Carlton right back to where she was on 2002’s Be Not Nobody.
In the ensuing nine years she has fallen by the wayside of the pop music world, wrongly relegated to the “one-hit wonder” label. But Vanessa Carlton is one of those songwriters who was never over-reliant on hooks to find success, and though three-year waits between albums have not been kind to her fanbase, those who have stuck around are going to be pleased with the result of the time taken to hone her craft. Though these songs, including single-candidate “Carousel,” don’t have the sound pop radio thrives on these days, as a whole the album plays well, Carlton’s music not sounding nearly as dated as one might expect.
As a result, Rabbits on the Run doesn’t have any real sense of immediacy, but that means the album’s less likely to live or die on first-week sales. There’s a sense that this is music meant to be savored, enjoyed in repeat listens as a full meal rather than just tantalizing single-serving appetizers. And Carlton has survived where her early ‘00s contemporaries have failed. Willing to write and record without guaranteed radio success to buoy her career, Vanessa Carlton has managed to bring the unexpected, while the likes of Anna Nalick still have yet to attempt a follow-up.
This isn’t music you’re going to hold up ten years from now and say “this is what makes pop music!” But Vanessa Carlton proves with Rabbits on the Run that, for a songwriter, what you need to do is make good music. If the music itself holds water, the rest takes care of itself. In this age of corporate radio and failing record labels, more artists could stand to take a lesson from that. And music fans willing to take a step off the beaten path should find plenty to enjoy about this album as well.
I’m launching a new feature category today — “Artists To Watch.” I’ll use this category to highlight emerging artists who are getting noticed online or in the industry, but who have not yet had significant chart success.
The first artist I’d like to highlight is a Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter who sounds like a cross between Sarah Bareilles and Anna Nalick. Jamie Lynn Noon has garnered notice from Billboard of late with their new “uncharted” chart, and though she’s got no immediate album release plans, “Second of a Spark” off her 2009 debut EP A Moment To Break is a solid slice of contemporary piano pop. Right now it’s only been viewed by 10,000 fans or so on YouTube, but it’s got the hook to catch on with top 40 radio. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear a lot more from her, particularly if she embraces a slight tinge of country — songs like “Second of a Spark” have been crossover monsters in the past with the right marketing touch.