[4 November 2003]
Leona Naess made a small splash into critic’s waters in 2000 with her debut album Comatised and her light yet deep vocals that seemed to win over even the most ardent opponents. Her last album followed that path and now with the sophomore album out of the way, Naess is back with her self-titled effort. Relying more on the song and her whispered voice that resembles Lisa Germano without the depression, Naess is quite comfortable doling out one melodic ditty after another. But there’s also a somber tone in certain parts, particularly in the reflective “Calling”. “I’m calling / Can you hear me / The angels will steer me / To your door”, she sings in the music box-influenced chorus. It’s a song that could be so easily classified as cookie-cutter pop, but Naess brings a vast richness to it in the vein of Natalie Merchant and Canadian popster Chantal Kreviazuk. The simplicity of the tune is its biggest plus.
“Don’t Use My Broken Heart” follows the opener in the same style, but with an emphasis towards the piano as Naess gives an impressive vocal over the chorus, whispered but not hushed, a la Norah Jones. “Don’t use the records I played you / To seduce or reduce what remains”, Naess quips in the second verse before hitting a bridge that’s sure to induce chills in some listeners. The poppy, radio-friendly singles material is found in “He Is Gone”, with an acoustic guitar strumming a chord that can be found in Kreviazuk’s “Before You”. The strings tend to be a bit of overkill, but they are quickly removed before returning to the core arrangement.
“Star Signs” is the sort of tune that, from a distance, sounds manufactured but the way the song’s country touches are added result in an impressionable and memorable effort. It’s not too solemn but has just enough melancholy within to make it perfect for those rainy Sunday afternoons. Evolving into a larger, more hopeful tone, Naess treads the line well between originality and radio-friendliness, especially with the closing couplet. Fans of Neil Finn would perhaps take well to Naess, minus the smart highbrow pop. “Ballerina” builds on the former, recalling Sarah McLachlan’s heyday. The closeness of this song is its alluring quality, resulting in it being possibly the track of the near dozen. With no gloss, it sounds as if it was done in one take on a late evening in the studio. And thankfully that freshness is still clearly audible.
“Dues to Pay” marks the first departure from the sparse structure Naess perfects, a rather bland and lightweight pop tune that is probably the turning point of a live show. Not really saying a lot and doing even less, the tune is a cross between Natalie Merchant and Sheryl Crow circa The Globe Sessions. The bridge is another sour moment, with some basic guitar riffs lost in the mix. “Yes, it’s Called Desire” is more of the same, with a bigger sound possibly compensating for a rather bland “filler” track. Thankfully “How Sweet” returns to her obvious strengths, the subtle ivory and ebony ticklings nestled into her acoustic guitar. The violin here is also a welcomed addition, fitting perfectly into the overall sound.
The first truly fine pop song that Naess nails is the catchy and pretty “Home”, which builds before going back down into a softer touch and swaying back into the pop rock fold. It sounds out of character, but here it’s the song that still sounds like something that stays true to itself—not compromised by anything or anyone. The record concludes with “One Kind of Love”, a song Naess seems to croon, speak, and sing all at once. Coming off like a current Patsy Cline or Connie Francis, the tune moves into a soulful, R&B song with female harmonies. While she might not come near a career as long as those aforementioned singers, Naess seems quite ready to make the next step into the spotlight—or scented candle, if you will.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/naessleona-st2003/