Not new to the music industry, Gigi Dover got her musical feet wet back in the ‘80s with an Americana band called the Rank Outsiders. After some minor but critical success with the band, Dover began developing her own songwriting talents and thus a solo career. The fact she also had some credible and talented associated like Duane Jarvis (sideman to Lucinda Williams, Dwight Yoakam, and John Prine among others) and E-Street bass player Gary Tallent didn’t exactly hurt either. By 1999 and still without a label deal, she decided to take matters into her own hands. After some hard work in the studio in the fall of last year, Dover saw light at the end of the tunnel. Her debut album, Unpicked Flowers is that light, a bright light but at times prone to flicker.
Starting with “Tangled”, the album gets off to a far moodier tempo than it should and has mixed results at best. Sounding like Fleetwood Mac circa its heyday, the track doesn’t have much of a kick to it. It appears it would be far better placed as the fourth or fifth track on the record. Dover gives a decent performance, but it’s an odd opener. “Betty Drive” has a certain flow to it in the style of Sheryl Crow and Bonnie Raitt in its funky blues-rock. “We all gotta come from somewhere / That don’t mean you’re gonna stay,” she sings during the chorus while the groove flourishes. Duane Jarvis adds a helping hand on backing vocals and guitar. The track would also work well as a b-side to Lucinda Williams’ “Joy”.
The soulful “All I Want” has all the tracings of Shannon McNally but is far less produced and slick. Dover’s vocals complement a steady guitar pace and a mid-tempo drumbeat. Shelby Lynn would also give the track its proper due, but Oliver makes the most of the chorus by not over-doing her words. The bridge sounds like it might, but she reels it back in just in time. Tallent’s bass line is another asset to the song. “No Need to Reply” makes for a logical follow-up despite Dover’s rather lukewarm vocals. It sounds here like she’s making the most of an occasionally bland song. The backing vocals give it a kick, but it’s too little too late. “Daughter” stands head and shoulders above the songs here in terms of lyrics and overall feeling. Whether it’s the backing vocals or the sense she’s paying homage to the Rolling Stones and Gram Parsons, it’s a tune worth repeated listens.
What isn’t worth repeated listens is “Everyone Wants a Kitten”, which is an aimless and sonic mess. Trying to sounds at times pop, at times country but with a drumbeat that is R&B and a bass and guitar enjoying a funk rhythm, it just sounds wrong from the opening. Even a bridge that consists of an “acoustic” scratch turntable only adds to the series of miscues. Thankfully, “Between the Lines” mixes a bit of Raitt with the Stones circa “Tumbling Dice” and its simple but infectious Richards-like riff. Greg Wetzel’s piano adds a nice to the great track also. “Learnin’ How to Love” is a slow but methodically built song starting off with just an acoustic guitar but with each instrument added before the chorus. Unfortunately though it does feed off that, but returns to square one.
Dover doesn’t have a particularly unique voice. Still though, she carries the majority of the songs and raises them from otherwise being bland or uninspired. “Wasn’t Meant to Be” showcases her pipes and allows her to show off a bit. Although it’s country-oriented, there are many pop characteristics about it. The barely audible guitar strumming in the belly of the song seems to be the catalyst for everything else. It also ends with Dover humming and adding vocals as she goes along, lacking the rigidity of other songs. The album ends on a sour note though, albeit a flamenco one. Trying her hand at a tune that would be better suited for Linda Ronstadt, “Will I Know Love” sounds a trifle forced. It would be a song k.d. lang would perform in her sleep, but doesn’t work well for Dover. It’s slightly disappointing for such an overall strong album to end this way. A very good debut, despite some obvious drawbacks.