Singer-songwriter Carrie Akre spent the early years of her career as frontwoman for such Seattle alternative acts as Hammerbox and Goodness, and more recently with The Rockfords (featuring Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready). She was blessed with a powerful voice and vocal range, which she used to great affect. She was the quintessential (female) rock singer. But on Invitation, her second solo record (along with her debut, Home, released in 2000), she has switched gears in a big way.
While such groups as Pearl Jam and Mudhoney still keep the faith (at least to themselves), many musicians from that time are finding it necessary to reinvent or at the least, distance themselves from their past. A friend of mine, a Seattlite, always said it was incredibly sad to him that the city’s best rock singer had to work a day job at an insurance agency. He was referring to Carrie Akre. Like many of her counterparts, success was fleeting an elusive. Moving this far stylistically away from her past may not have been an obvious move to fans of her former groups, but sounds like an artist interested in branching out into new territory.
Akre’s abilities as a singer are still evident, but this ain’t rock ‘n’ roll. A mix of pop-soul, trip-hop and all out ballads, Invitation is a move in daring new direction for a survivor of the “grunge” era of Seattle. “House at the End of the World” (co-written with Pat Dinizio of The Smithereens) is the most agile pop song of the record. Its lyrics about a lonely girl in self-exile (“How will you ever see the end to this / If you never leave / This little house you hide inside / This little house that you keep”) could just as easily be directed at the singer herself and her need to break from her past. Taking control of her career is a reoccurring theme. On the soul diva-ish “Wishing You Well”, she sings “And permanent’s that answer / It is written all around / If you don’t tend to yourself / You’re only gonna drown”. The standout track of the record, this is sweet gospel-tinged song of self-determination. You can’t help but join in and sing along to the choir-like choruses.
Fans of Carrie Akre’s voice have something to cheer for here, though it is often wrapped in some very generic sound textures and beats. More often than not, there is little musically to catch your ear, relying too heavily on the singer’s voice to carry even the blandest arrangements. If it was intended to keep her vocals the focal point, they may have done too good a job. The move from AOR to MOR is likely going to be more than some rock fans can take. But it also may make her more accessible to a completely different audience. Any of the afore-mentioned songs could be MOR radio hits, but the choice to release the record on her own label, My Way Records, may also impair her chance at this. A song like “Heaven”, a lovely sounding ballad, strengthened once again by the singer’s dramatic vocal reading sounds like much of what plays on adult radio today, and could even be a crossover hit. Carrie Akre has made a bold and independent statement, but will it be heard?