Ilene Adar,
First Sound
(self-produced, 2002)

Ilene Adar's debut disc First Sound is an enchanting collection of songs from a fresh new voice in contemporary folk music.

Adar's not as young as some new singer-songwriters, but her voice is distinctively sweet, vulnerable yet strong. Now 40 and raising a family, her songs combine hopefulness with the tempering influence of time. Inspired by a wide range of life experiences, from the death of her brother ("First Sound") to life with a growing daughter ("Mystery Girl") and the affirmation of her own dreams ("Invisible Girl"), Adar's songs are often autobiographical but seldom sentimental or self-indulgent.

Her lyrics are often appealingly straightforward ("This daughter, this husband reels me in/spices in the kitchen reel me in/these girls with no mother reel me in/this friend with no lover reel me in"). Occasionally, the intent of the lyrics is unclear to me ("Dirty Angels") but even then the melody and Adar's very pretty voice kept me going.

Adar has a knack for writing effective melodies, and the understated yet polished production on First Sound suits them perfectly. Caren Armstrong produced the record, and also contributes guitar, along with Robert Powell on pedal steel. The primary elements of the album are Adar's voice and tasteful acoustic guitar.

The first song, "One of These Days," is my favorite. It has a crisp, offhand energy that's missing from some of the more serious songs, particularly those (like "Wild Eye") that sound a lot like early Joni Mitchell. In "One of These Days," we get a glimpse Adar's sense of humor ("I'll be misbehaving/I'll be the one waving ... I'll write in big letters/I'll know so much better") which matches the quirky clarity of her voice.

"Rosie" is another standout song -- and it stands out for entirely different reasons. A story-song dealing with an unwanted pregnancy, it puts Adar into the voice of another character -- a nice change -- and handles what could be a ponderous subject with an admirably light hand. "I was looking for love, and God gave me Rosie."

Ilene Adar is, I'm sure, still experimenting with various songwriting styles in an effort to clarify her own voice as an artist. However, she has achieved something significant with First Sound, an engaging collection of well-written songs that gets better with each repeated listen.

- Rambles
written by Joy McKay
published 28 June 2003

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