Anne Heaton: Black Notebook

Jason MacNeil

Anne Heaton

Black Notebook

Label: Spill
US Release Date: 2002-09-10
UK Release Date: Available as import

Having toured with Max Roach and been a piano player for various jazz and Latin bands in New York City, it seems a bit odd that Anne Heaton would be compared to singers such as Melissa Ferrick and Tori Amos among others. But given the fact that she's been playing piano since she could remember, Heaton has honed her singer-songwriter craft over the past few years. The result is this debut album, featuring songs from as far back as 1997 but all sounding relatively contemporary. But the funky and jazz touches on most of the songs have far more in common with Norah Jones and Shannon McNally.

The funky opening of "Take Your Desire" shows her sultry and smooth delivery over a nice backbeat and harmony vocal. There's a goodly amount of guitar underneath the mix while Brian McWhorter's trumpet has an ample amount of solo time. According to her press release, Heaton has been influenced from everyone from Fine Young Cannibals to the Rolling Stones. But this opening track has a lot of traits a Lisa Stansfield track would possess. Even an up-tempo Portishead could be seen in some respects. Heaton doesn't really shine vocally but keeps everything on an even sonic keel. "Your Heart Is for Breaking" is more of a piano-led track that has Heaton warbling early on in the vein of Victoria Williams. The arrangement moves along but is a bit lightweight and too radio-friendly. Steve Walsh adds some basic guitar solo, but it's Heaton's voice that is perhaps the tune's selling point.

The album's title track has a quirky rhythm to it, almost a stop-and-start jazz feeling before adding some guitar and harmonies. Heaton is comparable to Amos and also Vanessa Carlton here minus the slick over-production. The song also tends to get bogged down in a rather aimless direction roughly two-thirds through, slowly building in its sound and vocal support but fading back into a mundane structure with more percussion. "If you were my sister, my neighbor, or my best friend, we'd all be talking at once", she sings before the song reaches it lengthy conclusion. "Old Man By Twenty-One" brings to mind Natalie Merchant in terms of her style and range. A melodic slow-building pop song at its finest, Heaton lets it flow effortlessly while keeping the arrangement quite simple. The chorus is a bit busy in places, but Heaton's voice and drummer Ethan Eubanks are the main performers here, while the song's pacing is another highlight.

"Too High" has Heaton opening up vocally a tad more, but the pacing and song is too lightweight and telegraphed to be given much credence. Although the musicianship is solid, the tune doesn't pack the punch it should, resembling Canadian singer Chantal Kreviazuk for the majority of the track. "Spinning", which has a bit of sampling and electronic/industrial noise supporting it, sags in parts, with Heaton emoting too often on this blues/roots concoction. The bridge works well if only for a few fleeting moments, but the song as a whole just misses the mark. The narrative of "Megan and Kevin" brings to mind a plethora of spoken-word coffeehouse folk singers that are a nickel a dozen these days. The accordion played by Rob Kurdo is the only saving grace within its four minutes plus.

The last few numbers return to the earlier portion of tracks, each with a melodic mid-tempo pop mold. "Mary" starts off the last of three songs with a guitar-oriented format as Heaton has a touch of Alanis Morrissette in this tune, which is a strong song and another one of the stellar moments. "I Want to Fly" and "Melancholy" both have a large amount of, well, melancholy with them. The soft yet deft piano touches are what make the songs pass the bar just barely. The album is good in spots, weak in others like any other debut effort. This hopefully won't be the last you'll hear of her though.

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