Although Branch made a ballsy move by abandoning her pop rock origins, her nu-country venture feels earnest and fitting.
A long time ago, in a land where alterna-chicks and Lilith Fair bore-fests dominated alternative rock charts, Michelle Branch emerged as an angsty teenager armed with her acoustic guitar and backed by genre-defining producer John Shanks. The Spirit Room indicated to all that this was where schmaltzy teenage pop/rock was headed -- Bland City. The intoxicating opening riff of “Everywhere” disappeared immediately to an over-produced mess of a record that did not once fluctuate or lose its monotonous sounding tone, with its mash of electric guitars over powering any hint of unique songwriting.
Still, Branch’s underlying potential shone through the obvious tampering from Maverick Recording Company who was looking to duplicate the success they experienced with Alanis Morissette six years prior. When Hotel Paper was released a few years later, the underlying potential became more pronounced for Branch. The album revealed a truly gifted young singer/songwriter with the capacity to pen some infectious and often sincere pop tunes. Still, despite the gifted moments of Hotel Paper, the genre in which Branch dabbled felt like a forced fit. Branch has always had that twang in her voice which suggests a roots in something more country-ish. However, with nu-Country being inexplicably uncool for all teenagers north of Texas, Branch stuck to the more palatable pop rock ventures with all the determination and gusto of a Vanessa Carlton.
It wasn’t until Branch released her first country album with longtime musician friend Jessica Harp, under the guise of the Wreckers, that the superficial reliance of her pop rock sound became clear. Michelle Branch has always been a little bit country, and you know what -- that’s OK. In fact, it’s a much more suitable genre for Branch. Her delivery of often hokey lyrics could rarely be taken seriously by the rock genre aficionados. In Branch’s favor, country music has always allowed a more straight ahead delivery of unpretentious and often cheesy lyrics, so here, she fits right in.
Everything Comes and Goes is Branch’s first solo country release without the support of fellow Wrecker Jessica Harp. The effort is solid, running a measly six songs long, and highlighting the genre-specific talent Branch possesses. Thankfully, two albums of pop-oriented tunes has given Branch the edge to write country songs that are more easily digestible for her pop fans. I’m sure Branch has seen some backlash from die-hard fans who swear that Hotel Paper was the last brilliant album by this fleeting pop starlet, thus making this jump a gutsy one.
Branch’s brand of country definitely leans towards the often embarrassing Taylor Swift side, instead of the more reverent olden days of Dolly Parton, but as nu-country goes, this is a worthwhile entry. Taken in stark contrast to the monotony of Taylor Swift, Branch comes off sounding like a veritable pillar in the country community. Her development as a songstress and lyricist has definitely progressed from her overwrought teenage beginnings, and that's all anyone could ever hope for from a girl who began her music career way before she was ever really ready. Take, for instance, the swag in the opening track “Ready To Let You Go”, where she sings: “Well, you walked in and knocked me right out of my seat/How could a pretty little boy make such a fool out of me/Oh, you better run for cover, you better get on your knees/You better think about it then turn around and leave”. It’s not overly poetic by any means, but suits the parameters of the genre, and even plays with it a little.
Branch’s voice is in solid form and hearkening back to the heyday of Shania Twain -- remember her? Unfortunately for Branch, she does not have the star power that Twain possessed with her perfectly pursed lips, flamboyant hair, and never ending cleavage. Branch is forever cursed with her teenage look, no matter how sultry she tries to make herself, and unless she plays to the sympathies of the nation like Swift managed to do, she’ll most likely remain on the fringes of both country and pop genres. Which is a shame because Branch is definitely more interesting than Twain and much cooler than Swift.
Everything Comes and Goes feels like Branch’s earnest effort to jump into a music career she is confident and ready to manage. What’s most admirable about Branch’s latest recording is how she has competently shrugged off the charade of her over-produced and misdirected beginnings and succumbed to her true desires in music. I have to admit that I am not a fan of nu-Country. I don’t own a single nu-country album, nor do I think I ever will. I do enjoy the roots of country and the magnificent contemporary throwbacks of alterna-country via She & Him. However, Branch’s Everything Comes and Goes, as occasionally embarrassing as it can be, stays true to the conventions of a limited genre, occasionally playing with them and a few times transcending them. Branch is clearly enjoying this new direction she is headed down, and there ain’t nothing wrong with that.