Singer-songwriter Maya Solovey is New England-raised and lives in Brooklyn these days, but has billed her new six-song EP, Forte, as her first truly American-sounding release. As you might guess from the title, Solovey’s primary criteria for this designation include loudness and directness. It’s a simplification, perhaps, but one that handily distinguishes the strings and melodrama of Forte from the restrained classical guitar and Latin rhythms of her self-titled 2009 album. As on her previous work, Solovey shows admirable flexibility as a vocalist on Forte, and, on some songs, she makes the oversized drums and the treacle of weepy string arrangements work for her. For instance, she conjures the ache of adultery through descriptive detail and deliberate phrasing on “Smile”, but it’s a borderline schmaltzy arrangement that makes the song stick like prime Ben Folds.
The problem with Forte is that, while Solovey and producer Bob Brockman often manage to render heavy-handedness into a musical virtue, Solovey can’t square this bigger-is-better “American” approach with a lyrical sensibility that often mistakes clever and quirky for personal. It’s a big liability for what’s ostensibly a concept EP that tracks a relationship from infatuation to regret. Regina Spektor is an obvious influence on the cutesy opener “Ring Ring Ring”, but Spektor would have the comic sensibility to undercut a tired bomb like “We can tune a piano / But we can’t tuna fish” with some snark. “Bigger Man” wants to be an elegy for a love affair undone by the burdens of success and male insecurity, but the metaphors don’t ring true (“It takes a bigger man to stand by his woman / When her dress shines brighter than his suit”), and the sadness in the story, burdened by an unaddressed layer of gloating, can’t keep up with the music’s implied sentiment.
Solovey proved that she can pull off lightness and wit on her earlier work, and the best songs on Forte suggest that she’s just as capable of big-time emotion. The balance is simply a little off here. If her next album is called Mezzo-Forte, she just may be on to something.