[2 June 2008]
Although predictability is an oft-maligned notion, there are times when knowing what you’re going to get is a really good thing.
In the case of Tristan Prettyman’s newest record, Hello , listeners will almost immediately get a strong sense of what they should expect to transpire over the course of 12 songs and nearly 45 minutes. Prettyman and producers Sacha Skarbek (one of the writers behind the James Blunt smash “You’re Beautiful”) and Martin Terefe (KT Tunstall, Jason Mraz, James Morrison) craft a consistent backdrop against which to present the singer’s dynamic, earthy vocals.
Concentrating heavily on mellow grooves, harmlessly funky rhythms and the rootsy refrains of an acoustic guitar, the production on Hello is polished enough for mass appeal yet just raw enough moments to attract fans who don’t enjoy polished pop-rock. In fact, the vast majority of the album’s tracks start with acoustic guitar, steady percussion, or some combination of the two.
With such a fixed approach and attachment to a sound, it would seem listeners could tire of the repetition by album’s end. Two qualities prevent this from happening: first, Prettyman is a tremendous vocalist who injects personality and depth into every word and every note she sings. A presence so charismatic is hard to ignore or pass by. While, on their own, these twelve tunes could just as easily sound at home on a John Mayer record or a Colbie Caillat record or a Matt Nathanson record, Prettyman more than asserts herself, giving a clear sense of her talent and heart.
Additionally, Prettyman, her producers, and her backing instrumentalists do what they do so well that even the most cynical listener has to appreciate the degree of skill that is employed. Hello is, most definitely, a well-made record.
The album begins with the title track, one of its strongest. As Prettyman introduces the project (in a very introductory fashion with the word “Hello”), she also introduces the basic elements previously mentioned. The tune expands from its initial acoustic-driven groove, as a few country guitar licks and the shimmer of a Wurlitzer add flavor and style. Prettyman displays her star power from the get-go, delivering a sassy yet assuring vocal turn.
Other tracks worth diving into include “War Out of Peace” which marries the trademark acoustic stylings with the expansiveness and drive reminiscent of Coldplay’s “Clocks,”; full of energy and imbued with power, the song has a very dynamic feel. “California Girl”, far less sunny a song than its name might suggest, begins with guitar riffs and gang vocals that call a cracked and dusty Western landscape to mind. The song eventually erupts into a full-on, electric guitar-led rock tune that has a Ben Harper sensibility.
Late in the album, the sparse “Just a Little Bit” has a sweetly heartbroken, AM radio singer-songwriter vibe to it while album closer “In Bloom” is the truest example of Prettyman’s raw vocal power on display. A torch song worthy of inclusion on the playlist at a smoky Manhattan jazz club, the smoldering soul in Prettyman’s voice is evident when she sings “I want to know what you’re thinking when you’re lying in your bed late at night.”
It’s a staggering performance that both reinforces what has been best about the previous eleven tracks and also suggests areas the artist should explore next time around.