When I casually mentioned Bell, Book, and Candle to a friend of mine from Luxembourg, he made a face. I got a similar reaction from a German friend. “Oh, them.” Apparently, a few years back, they had an enormously popular single in Germany, which, unfortunately for them, had an emphasis on “single.” A one-hit wonder of the German pop variety is what I was prepared for when I listened to this album. To a degree, it is just that. You can hear the Cranberries, Sheryl Crow, Madonna, and even the likes of the Spice Girls on Read My Sign. Not actual samples, just many moments of reminiscence. It recalls many bands, but does so in a way that makes it difficult to put your finger on them. “It reminds me of someone, I just can’t figure out who.” In the end, the result is a somewhat bland melange of the past 10 years of alternative female bands.
However, it would be unfair to dismiss this album out of hand on those grounds. What first caught my eye was their name: Bell, Book, and Candle. To me, it calls forth a sense of mysticism, similar to what one finds on a Loreena McKennitt album. Perhaps it’s merely an artifact of my initial perceptions of that name, but this album does seem to contain touches of that mysticism, especially in tracks such as “Destiny,” which manages to convey a hauntingly lonely atmosphere despite the swelling synth strains of the chorus.
Another interesting aspect of this album is the dynamic created between Jana Gross’ vocals and the rest of the music. As the album progresses, it becomes clear that the two are entirely separate entities. Her voice is excellent, even if her influences are sometimes painfully clear. The instrumental aspects seem to be dancing with her voice, a perfect gentleman, often falling unnoticed beneath a soaring crescendo. Other times, it seems to get distracted by a particular riff and the two go their separate ways for a moment or two. The overall effect was to keep my interest throughout the album.
In a nutshell, Read My Sign is a fairly straightforward alt-pop album. For what it is, it’s excellent. I was somewhat disappointed at none of the tracks containing any German. Several of the tracks are catchy: “Hurry Up,” “Heyo,” “Realize” and “Rescue Me,” as well as the title track, seem particularly suited to radio play. I found other, less pop oriented tracks, such as “Destiny,” or the short, but exquisite instrumental, “Still Points” to be more to my liking. If you enjoy female vocals, especially in a bouncy, pop context, Bell, Book, and Candle might be worth checking out. At the very least, it’ll provide hours of fun playing Spot-the-Influence.
// Notes from the Road
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