If the combinations of names like Sarah McLachlan, Ani DiFranco, Natalie Merchant, and even the Dixie Chicks all seem like a re-hash of Lilith Fair line-ups, then you’re already well on your way to figuring out what Late Tuesday (an all-female trip from Bellingham, Washington) are all about.
Not that Late Tuesday are pushing for female empowerment in the music business, or promoting a political agenda. It’s just that their brand of melodic adult contemporary pop bears all the hallmarks of Lilith Fair music. It’s not a bad thing, not at all, but it’s not the easiest sell these days. Even if AAA format keeps the established artists alive and fed, the general public’s attention seems to have turned away from earthy women singing adult-oriented tunes. In a world where Sheryl Crow, Jewel, and even Liz Phair (God, why?!) have embraced the Barbie-girl pop aesthetic, sanded any edges off, and sold their smiles, how is an independent band whose window of opportunity was almost 10 years ago supposed to make it?
Well, for Late Tuesday, the tactic seems to be smart hooks and lovely melodies. There are strains of McLachlan, DiFranco, and Merchant all over this disc, and even if the young women of Late Tuesday are closer in age to Michelle Branch than McLachlan, you’d never guess it. The trio — made up of Tara Ward on acoustic guitar, Dana Little on pianos, and Jocelyn Feil on acoustic and electric guitars — manages to capture elements from all the major players in the female adult pop royalty and incorporate them into lovely, nearly perfectly executed songs. They even sprinkle in instruments from further afield than most bands, including hammer dulcimer, accordion, and cello, plus accompaniment on drums and bass from session musicians. The results in Looking for Flowers Again are worthy of praise for their exceptional production and polished sound. Really, a few years ago this would have given Sixpence None the Richer a run for their money.
But in the here and now (well, a year late in terms of release date, but still), it’s hard to get too worked up over this album. It is so reminiscent of the past work of their elders that Late Tuesday never manages to escape the specter of being derivative. Which is really a shame, as all three women prove themselves to be accomplished vocalists and mature songwriters. There are even some moments of sheer brilliance, such as the incorporation of the accordion part from “La Vie En Rose” into the musical interludes of “Looking Through Rosy Glasses”. A couple of songs even stand out on their own as being singles worthy of any of their more successful contemporaries. “Everything Means Nothing”‘s delivery may sound familiar to Ani DiFranco, but it’s the relentlessly rolling piano line that gives this song its weight, and is easily the most impressive on the album.
However, Late Tuesday’s lyrical inventiveness really ends with the basic love story between the now-mythical “I” and “you”. While they have the technical abilities as musicians to support these additions to the already hefty canon, it’s nothing that you won’t think you’ve heard before. In the end, that’s what really suffers in Looking for Flowers Again: it’s too familiar, and as a result, nothing sticks. Unfortunately for Late Tuesday, they can’t work this to their advantage and slip into the upper echelons because the hey-day for this sound is over. On the other hand, this kind of female adult pop is perennial, and always comes back around eventually. If Late Tuesday can stick it out until then, and find that slight edge to mold into their own voice, they’ll be in prime position to make the move when the time comes.