[17 March 2009]
Though her biography claims her sound to be earthy and gritty, Autumn (Boukadakis) has a crystalline, sweet pop voice and not particularly unique songs. The female-centered blues pop found on Velvet Sky has a more polished sound with vocals that sound about as human as the best auto-tuner can create. Despite the Nashville engineering by Bill McDermott and production by Walt Wilkins and Tim Lorsch, and Autumn’s Austin-based songwriting, the compositions are hit or miss.
A few of the better moments on the disc include Autumn’s confident gospel emceeing and passionate, soft-piano ballads. The first song of the album is her composition “Rain Down”, a generically-titled frolic in country gospel pop. Autumn’s soprano coyly yodels and cries with a sexy Southern twang atop a gospel-esque multi-part backing choir. As soon as she asserts, “Everything is gonna be alright”, the listener believes her, because of her commanding vocal presence.
“We Made the Spirits Move” showcases Autumn’s classically-trained piano abilities against subtly nuanced soul vocals. She and her bare piano command the first verse, as additional instruments join the mellow mixture. Drummer Mickey Grimm uses brushes to round out the emotional ballad. Bassist Dave Jacques simmers with a low-end upright bass, thundering underneath the sound mix. A lonely Wilkins vocal part counteracts Autumn’s Southern angelic voice with bruised harmonies and a particular frailty. Soon the song reaches an electric guitar solo, as Jon Carroll continues the forlorn sound, with a Fievel from An American Tale loneliness. “Lesson Learned”, one of the tracks written by producer and acoustic guitarist Wilkins, begins with bubbling acoustic guitar picking and leads to a gentle gliding of strings by Tim Lorsch. The final track leads to a shimmering of jewel-like sounds that sparkle and glitter into oblivion.
A cover of Patty Griffin’s “Nobody’s Cryin’” offers simple and quiet backing instrumentation to the poetic, tear-wrought melody. Autumn’s electronic keyboard part shines against her dynamics-shifting voice. Some of her vocal tones exude a honey-rich presence over the powerful lyrics, as ends of phrases keep ringing with her cutting timbre.
Some tracks, such as “Cowgirl Confessions”, leave room for improvement. Autumn’s sultry vocals venture more in an airy and throaty direction. Despite the presence of an accordion and steel guitar (Fats Kaplin and Mike Daly, respectively), there’s not much about the selection that is Western or country. The outro of steel tones and ranch-hand oohs salvage the overdone poptart-country whispers and groans. “She’s gone / She’s gone”, is repeated more times than this listener can stomach. Sometimes some of Autumn’s voice trades air and gust for subtle whispering, leaving the sound more breathy than mysterious. “Paint” is one of those songs that purports to include many variations of dynamics in an effort to make the song more dramatic.
Many of the soulful country ballads blend together, with nothing really setting them apart. Nonetheless, Autumn is joined throughout Velvet Sky by a well-known cast of Americana and folk veterans, so the performance and production value weighs heavily against the journeyman songwriting.