Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Alejandra O'Leary's All I Know

Alejandra O'Leary's new CD All I Know is a fun and miraculous thing, a straightforward rock album with subtle tinges of "New Wave"--remember that term?--that place these songs squarely in the early to mid-'80s. Her bright, charming and honest voice might remind you of anyone from Debbie Harry to Martha Davis to Terri Nunn, kittenish with one stiletto heel pushed into your thigh. Each of these 11 songs are extremely polished in a slightly edgy way a la Parallel Lines, more Black Jack than Bazooka. All I Know is, for lack of a less cliched term, a breath of fresh air because it reminds you how good this type of pop can be when delivered by the right people. The cover even features a very cool Klaus Voormann drawing--this is about creating an impressive musical pedigree.

I reviewed her last album with the Champions of the West, Heartspace Timepiece, back in 2014, and I found it a tricky album to review because it didn't make a notable first impression. I still felt like I was listening to someone obviously influenced by bands like The Motels and Blondie. I made the mistake playing in a car filled with people who weren't into it, so I was dismissive, but I came back later and started discovering all of Alejandra's intriguing secrets.

This album, however, was immediately engaging. She sounds assertive and relaxed in comparison to HT, and just a few minutes into the rousing and powerful opener, "Doubtless," you'll have a strong idea of who she is and where she wants to go. Much to her credit, she stays the course.

One side note: I talk a lot about Portland musicians and performers, mostly because I made a lot of contacts in the couple of years that I lived there. When I discovered that Alejandra is actually a resident of Portland, MAINE, I wondered if I caught that on the older review. I actually referred to her as a Detroit performer. Perhaps the recent move is what gives these songs more depth, more wisdom and more experience.

While she surrounds herself with great musicians (while assuming the bulk of the guitar duty on her own), but it's her voice that's always front and center. It can be perky and sexy and then suddenly there's a dramatic shift where she's singing directly at you and throwing her whole body into it. Her lyrics also contribute to this unique album--the words aren't unusually poetic on their own, but she sings with conviction and makes each song hers. (I know, that's been said about a million times about singers, but this time I mean it.) On "Lighthouse," for example, she gives a new lover the following instructions, which double as a warning:

I’m a spotlight following you.
Yeah I tell the night what to do.
I got me some powers by day
I’m gonna show you how
to strip them away.

At first it doesn't quite dig in, and then you hear her sing it and suddenly you realize she's talking about putting up walls while secretly hoping someone has a sledge hammer available. She has a lot of hidden depth, which is a pleasant surprise in an album so immediately likeable as this one.

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