[14 September 2008]
Lex Land is a classically trained singer who has decided to go the singer-songwriter route, and her debut album, Orange Days on Lemon Street, throws a bunch of songs in different styles at the wall. Fortunately for her, most of them stick.
Right from the opening song, “All We’ve Ever Done”, it’s clear that Land has a strong, distinct voice. It follows the classic singer-songwriter formula, beginning with just Land’s voice and an acoustic guitar and then opening up with piano, drums, bass, and electric guitar. It’s a solid romantic pop song, plaintive without being a downer. But it’s the saucier second song, “Could’ve Had Me”, that really begins to show off Land’s strengths. A slow-burning, bluesy tune, Land’s voice turns dark and smoky and fits perfectly with the spurned-lover lyrics.
The quiet “Easy” reminded me of two disparate sources: the vocal stylings of Billie Holiday and the laid-back, sleepy songs of Leon Redbone. “Sweet” benefits from its arrangement, employing loping strings, creative drumming from Craig McIntyre, and some well-placed hollow-body electric guitar from the album’s producer, Shannon Edgar. “As Much as You Lead” mines a lot of the same territory as the album’s opener, but after the variety of the rest of the first half of the disc, it doesn’t feel repetitive.
The centerpiece of the album is “Play in Reverse”, which has Land’s most creative lyrics. It’s a narrative about a recording session between Land and a male friend whom she secretly loves. While there is some unwieldy phrasing involved, the song pivots on the idea that they played back the entire session in reverse after they finished. All of the decisions Land regretted, like revealing her feelings to him and drunkenly kissing him, are also erased, and she muses about getting a second chance to do it again and make different choices. It’s complicated and compelling, and producer Edgar wisely keeps the focus on Land’s voice and lyrics, with minimal background arrangements beyond simple acoustic guitar and soft, brushed percussion.
The back half of the record starts to lag a little bit. Songs like “Favorite” and “Countless Songs” mine similar lyrical territory and musical styles as earlier tracks, and it lessens their impact. “How Often?” perks up your attention near the end of the album, as its an R&B ballad that, like “Could’ve Had Me”, plays to Land’s biggest vocal strengths. The arrangement is spot-on, with clean electric guitar lines and tasteful strings. Passionate songs that sound perfect for a smoke-filled lounge may be where Land should turn her focus in the future. The disc closes with “What I Want From You”, a song that features a quiet, dark acoustic guitar accompaniment. This one also seems to enhance Land’s voice, probably because of the darker feel.
Orange Days on Lemon Street, while well-produced and entertaining, sounds a lot like Land is still figuring out her songwriting process. This is understandable, as her bio says she’s only 21 and that she went straight from two years of college to dropping out and beginning work on this album. Her voice seems to work better with darker, lower-pitched material, although “Play in Reverse” is a notable exception to that on the album. Which isn’t to say the poppier, acoustic-guitar based songs are bad, because they aren’t. But her sultrier mid-range voice is preferrable to the slight baby-doll quality of her upper register.