The bravest Borders show I ever saw: a defiant brunette and her tambourine player, dancing and wailing for four people who were alternately bored, dwindling, and drinking coffee. It would have been an average weeknight at corporate Cafe Artiste, but the girl had some good songs and a voice that got my attention even as I browsed in the back of the store. “What’s your name?” I blurted out to her between songs. I wanted to hear more. The brunette’s name was Shakeh, and her debut album Running was still in progress at the time. I waited though, and was one of the first to get a copy—for free. Music reviewers are lucky like that.
For singer-songwriter Shakeh Herbekian, who goes simply by Shakeh, the trek from Washington to Southern California is a part of life. She’s been touring the Pacific coast for a while now and, like most indie artists, scraping and gigging to live the dream. Her efforts to ditch the paycheck and live the bohemian life are admirable—these songs could double as a running tally of the lovers she’s given up and the corporate demons she’s exorcised—but they become a tediously uniform theme on this album. Writing from experience isn’t easy, and Shakeh’s songs map the experience of a growing songwriter with adequate sincerity and frankness. But the lyrics lack the eloquence that gives writers like the Indigo Girls and Andrew Kerr meaning and grace. More metaphors and fewer lines that start with “I” (“I know”, “I like”, “I love”, and so forth) would make me care about her exes and her dreams a lot more.
The jaunty pace of the title track, “Running”, revives Police-era instrumentals and foreshadows the somewhat formulaic adult-contemporary sound that dominates the rest of the tracks, except for the radio-friendly “The Way” (which showcases Shakeh’s bluesy vocals) and the swingy “What the Hell It’s My Dream”, which is my pick for the album single. Shakeh’s singing doesn’t quite go down smoothly on some tracks (“Quick and Dirty”), but for the most part she’s edgier and throatier than Sheryl Crow. It’s her voice that makes me look forward to the second album.