Reina del Cid‘s The Cooling sounds effortless. del Cid can meld her gentle alto voice seamlessly with a warm acoustic guitar and thrumming stand-up bass to create the sort of music that just sounds right. (She can also rock a full band arrangement, too–note the excellent “Mice and Men”).
From opener “Sweet Annie” to “The Fall” to “Morse Code” to closer “Death Cap,” she pulls elements of singer/songwriter, indie-pop, folk, country, and even blues together. The result is an infectious, engaging sound that gives her room to set up her mature, composed vocal and instrumental melodies. There’s a balance between joie de vivre and earthy certainty that results in tunes that feel close to her heart but also not weepy and introspective.
I want to sing along to the tunes, but I also want to sit back and let them hit me. It’s “Morse Code” where this hits hardest: it’s a break-up song with a sort of spurned-lover disaffection (famous of female country tunes) poured into a gentle guitar strum that falls somewhere between folk and indie-pop. Her voice has some gentle reverb on it that give it some depth, but the earnest melody could have carried it on its own. The lyrics shine as well, taking a different tack on the tried-and-true subject material.
The Cooling is one of the most enjoyable records I’ve heard all year: you can love it at multiple levels, and that makes for great listening. If you’re interested in Ingrid Michaelson, Regina Spektor, or other innovative singer/songwriters, you need Reina del Cid in your ear.
Reina Del Cid has a rare melodic gift. Her 10-song release with The Cidizens is titled blueprints, plans, and each song features one absolutely stunning vocal melody after another. She could have made any song on the whole album the single, and they all would have been just as effective at showing off that Reina Del Cid can write unforgettable tunes. Her pop-folk/bluegrass-lite makes great use of traditional sounds, rhythms and instruments to float her brilliant vocal melodies, from the condescending “Pretty Lie” to the forlorn “Expiration Date” to the striking “Brutal Love.” All of these tunes are mixtape-worthy, which is incredibly unusual. If you’re into anything from Jason Mraz to Nickel Creek to Ani Difranco, you’ll find something to love in Reina Del Cid and the Cidizens. And if you like all of them, then you’re in for a treat.
David Ullman lets you know exactly what you’re going to get immediately. Ullman opens Light the Dark with a single sharp acoustic guitar strum and a howl of, “This is my cry in the dark!” As the rest of “Who You Say” unfolds, it becomes very clear that Ullman comes from the Damien Rice school of singer/songwriters, where hearing the tension and struggle in the vocals is a large part of the charm. Light also features instrumentation similar to Rice’s, with acoustic guitar, piano, strings and vocals taking up the lion’s share of the work. Ullman’s voice is grittier than Rice’s, making some of the tunes here positively punishing on his vocal chords. The lyrics deal with struggle and tension in religious themes, so there’s fertile ground for crescendo and catharsis. If you’re into gritty, powerful singer/songwriter fare, Light the Dark will be right up your alley.
The strength of hunters.’white lies is the interplay between easygoing alt-country vibes and the impressively descriptive lyrics. From describing a picturesque summer evening in standout “Ft. Lee, VA” to chronicling the life and times of the titular character in “Ambulance Chaser,” vocalist Rosa Del Duca nails the lyrics. She has strong control over her voice as well, lending these tunes a knowing, confident air. White Lies is fun to listen to on all levels, as hummable melodies, interesting arrangements, and memorable lyrics abound. This seven-song release is very worth your time.
I associate Damien Jurado with fragile, delicate folk, so it’s no surprise that my favorite tunes on Maraqopa are the quietest. “Working Titles” pairs a gentle ukulele strum with swooning backup vocals and very high steel drum notes (no foolin’) to create a swaying, beautiful tune. “Museum of Flight” depends on Jurado’s falsetto to sell the dreamy tune, and it works out perfectly. The rest of the album is a bit noisier, moving almost over into the dream-pop/indie-pop realm instead of the singer/songwriter genre that he established himself in. It’s definitely a unique sound that new fans may enjoy and embrace. It’s a tough sell for this old-school fan, though.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.