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My Brightest Diamond

(13 Feb 2007: Paradiso — Amsterdam)

Shara Worden can sing with the best in the business. I could hark on for several paragraphs, delving into the astounding pitch and tonality emanating from Worden’s pipes, but that would get gratuitous. To proceed with this review, however, it must be established that Worden sings as forcefully as an operatic soprano, wrenching the words out with an intricate playfulness rarely seen since the days of Joni Mitchell and Carole King. Watching her belt each note live is mesmerizing and plainly impressive. Throughout her show, I stared at the image of her voice—not the singer herself, but what was coming out of her—and, with each melody, the tone strengthened.

So there you have it:  she can sing—very well. Of course, Worden’s voice is just one element that drives her collective, My Brightest Diamond. Dissonance, mood, tonality, image, and creativity all factor into the songwriting as well.

With Wolfmother playing a loud, sold-out show downstairs, Worden and an accompanying rhythm section crammed into the cozy upstairs compartment of the Paradiso and, right on time at 8 p.m., started in, swinging the set towards My Brightest Diamond’s latest record, Bring Me the Workhorse. About an hour’s worth of original music followed, ending after Worden emerged alone for a quiet, even more intimate encore featuring sparse instrumentation that left her singing almost a capella.

Throughout a set that included “Freak Out,” “Rabbit Hole,” and “Workhorse,” Worden laid down plaintive, disparate guitar melodies, intentionally leaving room for her voice to fill in the cracks. As the set unfolded, these cracks, pauses, and rests in the songwriting moved from the background to the fore, as Worden’s pipes forced each melody to play along with her voice. The result proved difficult to bear. It seemed that every time she flirted with experimental ideas, a dissonant rest overtook the mood just as a climactic acme was within reach. The result was an emphasis on Worden and her emphatic wail, rather than what could have been a creative melodic twist and turn. Such twists were constantly straightened in an effort to focus our attention on the vocals, leaning many choral bridges towards aria-like territory instead of crunching down on the heavy rock riff hashed out a few bars earlier.

The forced focus and too-sparse instrumentation were made ever-more luminescent in My Brightest Diamond’s choice of songs, which leaned decisively towards ones with dissonant, angrier sounds culled from a more aggressive ethos. The political potency embedded in Worden’s lyrics was obvious, but musically, the intrinsic darkness and morbidity clouding each melody became overbearing.

Once again, it was Worden’s voice that was left to pick up the pieces, but often each chunk was too shattered to re-assemble. The set’s fierce pensiveness, while demonstrating Worden’s talent in unraveling a morose mystery, became too morbid, too dark, and too sad by the show’s end; any consonant melody was cut short for vocal wailing, regardless of whether Worden was flirting with hard rock, punchy folk, opera, classical, or new wave melodics. 

Yet, the sold-out audience lapped it up, and, in some ways, I did too. I love sad music, which is what My Brightest Diamond excels at crafting, and, as I said, Shara Worden has a forceful voice. Days later, I remain entranced by her vocals and immense range, almost as if I stumbled on a modern-day Edith Piaf practicing arias in a Parisian Café. Yet, the musical accompaniment, in its almost pervasive dissonance and fear of melodic expansion, shoved her voice to the side of the plate—making it a side dish that tasted lovely but couldn’t compensate for the disappointment of a questionably prepared main course.

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