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An American Starlet | Sweet Country Lullabies From... (www.starletsweb.com)
With a cover that apes the schoolboys-on-crack idea of good design and a name that could well be shorn of its indefinite article (not to mention unnecessary quote marks) I was fearing another fumbling, badly recorded hog's foot of an album. So it was quite a surprise when the first track displayed shimmering female vocals that immediately reminded me of early Cowboy Junkies or Oh Susanna without the Eagles fixation. Hmmm. Life in the old beast yet. That beast being alt.country (though whether this is truly alt. or just good, plain, old time is something I can leave for you to debate and waste an evening over.) With a pleasing mix of acoustic instruments and a leisurely pace An American Starlet immediately demands attention. So it comes as a bit of a surprise when the next song is sung by a man, Ian Parks (the brains, guitar, voice, banjo, mandolin etc. behind "AAS") but when you hear his voice you won't be sorry. Slurred and gritty, it's a voice born to sing about loss, decay and bourbon bottles - and that's what he sings about. Simple Sad Song is just that, sung by Parks in a voice filled with the gravitas and pathos of Jay Farrar. And that wouldn't be a bad comparison except that Parks has more than one melody, more than four chords, in his bag of tricks. The delicate interplay of organ and banjo on this track is one of those moments that force you to get off the sofa, turn up the volume and luxuriate. Know It Was Better is as slow and sad as a funeral procession in the rain, conveying the kind of urgency and passion which Redstar Belgrade so often find. Best of all, She's A Star with its overlapped vocals and keening strings, has the feel of early Band, like something off their timeless second album, Parks' phrasing spookily reminiscent of Richard Manuel's. The fingersnapping, ducktailed 50's swing and shuffle of Love With You adds some welcome breadth while the epic Softly Tomorrow is gently touching (though a tad overlong). If there are problems, they're ones normally associated with a debut - some of the recording sounds flat and the songwriting tends towards the one dimensional - especially during the latter stages of the album - but in what there is, there's promise that "AAS" might become a band to keep an eye on, effortlessly mining a seam of melancholy country, unimpeded by cliché or tack, with something like real soul behind the surface. The gently rolling instrumental closer, Plain Field Station, is perhaps a taste of things to come, all sweetly swooping fiddles and spiky banjos, filled with verve and excitement.
CWAS #9 - Winter 2002