[24 May 2011]
Marissa Levy’s 63 Songs About Joe EP comprises five tracks with savvy melodies, smart vocal arrangements and angular guitar licks. What would be nice, aside from more songs to round out a complete album, is a concept to match its beguiling title. That’s not to say there have to be 58 more tracks to go with the ones here, but it would be kind of satisfying to know who “Joe” is. These songs revolve around relationships in general and the ups and downs that occur whenever people interact.
The music is full and accessible, timed by heavy drumbeats and accentuated by rock guitars that flirt with acoustic and country sensibilities. The first track, A Love Song, recalls Dirty Mind-era Prince, particularly the sound of his often-covered “When U Were Mine”, right down to its stuttering rhythm and plucky guitar. Of course, “A Love Song” is nowhere near as subversive or as coy as the Prince tune. It is completely straightforward, a familiar driving song that swells and soars as it glides along, although the wormy bassline inching behind the guitar is a delectable bit of intrigue.
There are times, as in “Growing Up to Do”, when a more stripped down and acoustic approach might have hit the reflective and mature mark these songs seem to target. That hardly undermines their catchiness, however. Marissa Levy is quite a skilled melodist. The backing “coos” and “ahhs” are also well done, although it’s disconcerting when she occasionally harmonizes with male vocalists. “Growing Up to Do” showcases strong and witty lyrics (“You’ve never been very good with numbers / No one could ever count on you”), as does the barroom confessional “Heartbreak Liar” (“Don’t need to play hard to get / I am—hard to get”), but it’s hard to say whether Levy’s voice has the heft to carry the role convincingly. Her lilting sweetness is charming, romantic even, and her delivery ranges from euphoric, as in her The-Beach-Boys-meets-The-Turtles blend on “The Magic”, to the slick syllable-packing in “Heartbreak Liar”. Her voice is good, I just wish the persona didn’t sound so damn cute and precious when she’s singing stuff like “I’m cutting veins so I can make sure that you’re bleeding” in the Rilo Kiley-style “Breathing Fire”. If the vocals expressed the grit that’s in the lyrics, 63 Songs About Joe would be irresistible.