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Call for Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.

Grey DeLisle: Homewrecker

Grey Delisle

When you hear a line like “Something old, something new / Something borrowed, something blue / I’m getting older every day / Ain’t nothing new / Baby, you’re still borrowed / I’m still blue”, you just think to yourself, “Ah, that’s what a good country song is all about.” Grey DeLisle’s second record (her first, The Small Time, came out in 2000) has lots of moments like that, where you just think to yourself, “that’s how that song oughta sound.”

If you’re a member of the late-night TV shift like me, you’ve probably become very familiar with DeLisle’s voice without even knowing it; she’s done cartoon voiceover work for everything from Rugrats to The Powerpuff Girls to Samurai Jack. She has a clear, strong voice that Homewrecker producer Marvin Etzioni (former Lone Justice member, producer of folks like Counting Crows and Toad the Wet Sprocket) rightfully puts up front in the mix.

Homewrecker starts off with “Borrowed and Blue”, a perfect throwback to the golden age of Nashville songbirds like Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn. Much of the song is spoken, from the perspective of a woman on the wrong end of a love triangle. It’s theatrical to the extreme, but when DeLisle sings the chorus, it all falls together. She attacks the song with complete conviction, and that’s probably why it works. From there, it’s a mixture of styles ranging from boogie woogie blues to Tom Waits-style waltzes.

For lack of a better label, DeLisle will probably be considered a country artist. Songs like “Borrowed and Blue” and “Beautiful Mistake” are certainly vintage Nashville, but DeLisle’s just as likely to make a nod to classic R.E.M. (check out the riff that kicks off “The Hole” or the chiming chords that lead into “Beautiful Mistake”). The title track is a rockabilly romp that evokes the old Sun Records sound before breaking into some breakneck barroom piano. “Dead Cat” sounds a bit like Syd Straw until DeLisle stakes her claim by wailing the lyrics to the point where her voice breaks. I’m still not exactly sure what the funky, brooding track is about, but man, you’ve got to admire DeLisle’s delivery.

The disc’s showstopper, though, is “Showgirl (I’m Sorry)”, a duet with Rhett Miller of Old ’97s fame. It’s a classic tale of the road, in which Miller’s character falls prey to a “golden-haired chanteuse” while DeLisle offers that all she wanted was to raise a family. The song coalesces into DeLisle listing the showgirl’s victories while Miller repeatedly responds, “I’m sorry, so so sorry”. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and quite elegant.

“Frozen in Time” and “The Hole” both exhibit a Syd Straw vibe, in which DeLisle just goes for the song’s throat. There are a few times when DeLisle seems to be on the edge of being too theatrical, but she always eases off before she crosses that line. “‘Twas Her Hunger” takes on a Mule Variations-era Tom Waits feel, with its gently loping pace. Sung from a man’s standpoint, it tells of succumbing to a woman’s guile (I’m not sure, at one point, if DeLisle’s singing “it was her beauty” or “her booty that derailed me”, but I guess either one works). “Ferris Wheels and Freakshows” finishes off the record in similar style, with carnival sounds providing the backdrop to DeLisle’s tales of a twisted relationship. The song’s either metaphorical when she sings, “it’s been ferris wheels and freakshows since I met you”, or she could be singing about falling in love with a carny. If there’s one minor quibble about Homewrecker — and it’s a very minor one — it’s that you can’t be sure what DeLisle’s more surreal scenarios are about.

Other than that, though, this is an excellent record, full of artistic risk. Any number of these songs could fold in on DeLisle to the point where they sound like self-parody. Throughout the album, though, she carries herself through sprawling, ambitious arrangements, and she shows that she’s up to the task. DeLisle’s one of those full-throated singers with the artistic temperament to match, and it’ll be really interesting to see where she goes from here.