[12 October 2004]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Over the past decade, there’s certainly been no shortage of female singer-songwriters in pop music, the type of sincere, headstrong, (sometimes) heavy-handed, sensitive songstresses who tap into the always-reliable demographics of earnest university students and older Gen-X professionals in search of the latest new thing in adult alternative music. As is the case in any genre, some artists stand out more than others, such as Canada’s two beloved Sarah’s, McLachlan and Harmer, Ireland’s Gemma Hayes, and the UK’s Dido, but all too often, the majority of these female artists are either in their late teens or early twenties when their first albums come out, and unless they possess the preciousness and wit of a Nelly McKay or an Amy Winehouse, or the flaky brilliance of Fiona Apple, most of the time, the young ladies have very little worthwhile to say. If you’re going to be a singer-songwriter who writes introspective material based on personal experience, please, ladies, go out and live a little beforehand.
Erin Moran certainly has lived. And before you say anything, dear reader, no, she didn’t play Joanie Cunningham. The New Jersey native, who performs under the moniker A Girl Called Eddy (an homage to the Dusty Springfield album A Girl Called Dusty), has taken her own sweet time coming into her own as a songwriter, and now, three years after her debut EP Tears All Over Town, she’s ready for the big time with an eponymous album that’s full of the usual gutwrenching honesty, but with a world-weary maturity and perspective, not to mention a warm, soulful sound that comfortably envelops the listener.
Much of the credit to A Girl Called Eddy‘s success lies in her choice of producer, none other than former Pulp and Longpigs guitarist, not to mention a stalwart solo talent in his own right, one Richard Hawley. Essentially, if you liked Hawley’s gorgeous 2003 album Lowedges (one of that year’s buried treasures), you’ll most definitely go for this one, too. The lush, warm production on his album is for the most part duplicated on A Girl Called Eddy, featuring the exact same band Hawley used on his record, and despite a few changes here and there, including a bit more emphasis on Moran’s piano (as opposed to Hawley’s more guitar-centric compositions) this album does indeed sound like a female response to Lowedges.
Still, as terrific as the production work on the album is, it’s Moran herself who steals the show. One look at the album artwork says it all; made to look like a tattered 1970s LP, and with a cover photo that echoes the smoldering beauty of Laura Nyro (not to mention that Dusty homage in the title), Moran’s compositions hearken back to the great singer-songwriter days of the early 1970s. Songs resemble the music of Springfield, Carole King, Karen Carpenter, and sometimes all three at once, as Hawley provides a big, yet not overblown musical backdrop that echoes both Burt Bacharach and Scott Walker. When the lady starts to sing, though, that’s when you’re hypnotized, as Moran croons softly in a smooth, breathy, husky voice that sounds like a cross between Chrissie Hynde and Aimee Mann.
Quiet, mellow songs, like the achingly beautiful “Heartache” (with its little nod to Carpenter’s “Close to You in the intro), “Did You See the Moon Tonight?”, and the emotional “Kathleen”, Moran’s tribute to her late mother, all show the kids how to do that kind of hushed balladry properly, putting Norah Jones’s glorified lounge act to shame. Still, it’s the more upbeat songs that really steal your heart, as they bounce about gently with a smooth, light, 70s soul influence. “Tears All Over Town” has Moran singing in little more than a whisper, as Hawley’s gently thrumming arrangement provides the perfect accompaniment. “The Long Goodbye” has a Springteenesque quality in its grandiose chorus, while “Golden” starts off with a plaintive, piano-based melody, but soon the drums and guitars come crashing through, as the song soars along, held aloft by Moran’s singing, which eschews the hushed tones in favor of a devastating, impassioned delivery. Best of all is the Bacharach-like “People Used to Dream About the Future”, where Moran’s maturity as a songwriter really surfaces, as she croons, “Is there a way to replace all the dreams that didn’t come true?” The song encapsulates the quality that sets A Girl Called Eddy apart from the kids, how quality songwriting doesn’t have to sound as shallow and self-absorbed as a teenager’s journal. What works best, quite simply, is smarts, both musically and lyrically, something that this album is overflowing with.