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Paal Flaata | In Demand (Universal)
Those familiar with the Walkabouts-endorsed Midnight Choir will testify to the vocal capabilities of Paal Flaata, his warm and strong voice both soothing and stunning the listener, weaving magic on his band's finest moments - most notably, that would be those collected on 1998's superb 'Amsterdam Stranded'. Never a songwriter himself - he has yet to receive a writing credit on any of the Choir's albums - Flaata has decided to keep on doing what he does best on his first solo album, and leave the songwriting to others. And so, we get an album of cover tracks, with Flaata testing his voice against a string of gospel-flavoured Americana biggies, paying tribute to those who inspired him in the first place. There's little reason to complain about his song selection - amongst others, we get Townes van Zandt's Second Lover's Song, Monte Warden's Just To Hear Your Voice and Margaret Rich's Have A Heart. That's three reasons to pick this one up right there. However, the album does suffer from the good old karaoke-issue: Flaata's singing is as fine as ever and he's taken on some board some highly competent musicians - not least Andrew Hardin (Tom Russell, Nanci Griffith, Katy Moffatt), who also produces here - but there's still something vaguely uninspired about this, a certain blandness that creeps across. Sometimes it's a bit more expressive and easily detectable, as on the tired, exasperated swamp-blues styling of Tony Joe White's Willie and Laura Mae Jones as well as the run-of-the-mill take on Bill Morrisey's Will You Be My Rose. That said, there are some definite highlights here and the songs themselves are, if anything, all classics that deserve a spin every once in a while. Flaata's voice is as great as ever and just about worth the price of admission alone, but there's still a sense of missed opportunity running throughout. Hardly an essential album by and stretch of the imagination, 'In Demand' serves to pass the time until the next Midnight Choir album is out. There's something to be said for that as well.