“Fantastic Ordinary”. That’s a song from Martha Berner’s debut, This Side of Yesterday, and it’s a fine description of her latest EP Ten Tiny Little Pieces. Berner has a beautiful voice, reminiscent of Natalie Merchant, and she seems capable of writing decent folk-pop songs in the Kasey Chambers, Lucy Kaplansky, Dar Williams, Catie Curtis, Paula Cole, Sarah Harmer, Lisa Loeb, Lori McKenna vein on occasion. Just not this occasion. These three originals and cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning” are fantastically ordinary. These are the light and easy favorites of adult alternative rock, the songs with nice melodies that you can hum along to in the background. The pretty acoustic songs that sound great on World Café and don’t make you think or feel anything and feature lyrics that you’ve heard 450 zillion times before. How about a heartbreak ballad that goes: “My heart is breaking, my heart is breaking, in to 10 tiny little pieces.” (The song is almost redeemed by the fact that she’s singing not about a departed lover but about the loss of a loved one—but not quite.) As evidenced by her critically lauded debut, Berner can do better. She deserves a bit of break if only because she recorded these songs with a band live in a single studio session. They sound good, there’s just not much memorable or compelling about them. Maybe next time she might want to spend two days.
Listen to “Down and Out in San Francisco”