Indie Oakland folk singer Nedelle Torrisi, or simply Nedelle, is a product of her musically inclined Sicilian parents. Her father, an ex-priest, was a jazz drummer who played on occasion with jazz legend Vince Guaraldi (of “Peanuts” fame) and her mother was a classically trained pianist. Already at age seven Nedelle started playing a variety of instruments, and today she can play the violin, piano, and guitar. She started composing and arranging her own material, which eventually led to her debut Republic of Two in 2003, followed in 2004 by Summerland, a collaborative effort with her partner Thom Moore. Now she returns with her second full-length solo effort, From the Lion’s Mouth, a much more personal outing that focuses more on amiable minimalist folk pop.
From the Lion’s Mouth is made up of austere and short songs, which clock in at about two minutes apiece. The album opens with the simple and naïve sounding “Tell Me A Story”, a song essentially about her dog (“My little dog she licked my salty hand / Cried for the day before the song began”). The song veers a little too much into the toddler zone and is not as inviting as Nedelle possibly intended. Fortunately most of the other material deals with more profound adult themes. The theme of love permeates the album, though it’s not that hot passionate love but a more mature or even cynical love. For example, on “Winged Can” she sings about a dead-end relationship that nobody is able to face (“We can’t deny a love without no spine / The higher we fly the less we hide”). However, at times the deep subject matter of her lyrics comes into direct conflict with her sweet, melodic delivery. This creates a discord in the listener that can evoke a range of feelings, from mild chagrin to downright irritation. This is particularly the case on the tracks “Good Grief” and “World Warrior.”
The high points of From the Lion’s Mouth occur when Nedelle breaks from her standard chord progressions and loosens up a little more, such as on “Oh No!”, a track that harkens back to a 1950s girl-teases-boy bee-bop sound (“Please learn to pray my boy / cry on your own time / For all your episodes, what have I to show?”). Similarly, the song “Begin to Breathe” has a nice groovy electric organ accompaniment, with many interesting tempo changes. The occasional flourishes of strings and brass instrumentation works well to fill out the tracks. Some have compared Nedelle’s music to jazz, bossa nova or even funk. Personally, I fail to hear those influences in her music. To me it seems much more grounded in the folkie guitar and vocal harmony styling.
While Lion’s Mouth certainly has its moments of beauty and charm, there are many songs that simply blend together and seem indistinguishable from each other. Some might find Nedelle’s naivety enchanting, while others may find it annoying. To her credit, Nedelle does not follow standard pop conventions and succeeds in creating her own unique blend of music that is both vulnerable and affirmative.