Debbie Andrews,
Suburbs of Eden
(Frankly Mills, 1999)

Suburbs of Eden is a smooth and well-produced combination of strong female vocals, light jazz piano and a rock-inflected backing band. The eight tracks here pass by with nary a note out of place, and it seems that almost before it starts, the music has come to an end, or started back at the beginning for those who favor the autorepeat function.

The opening track, "Resurrection," is a seemingly stream-of-consciousness narrative which rides well on Andrews' voice and piano, with a catchy wordless chorus. "Always an Angel" showcases Andrews' playing and singing in a quiet ballad form, with the supporting musicians staying wisely restrained. A more rhythmic, pop band orientation shows on "Dog on a Skylight," a song based around unusual lyrical imagery with well-integrated backing vocals from Mike Blaxill, who co-wrote much of the CD. On the other hand, Andrews' piano seems neglected in "He Dream Alone," and the song suffers, with the other musicians providing competent but forgettable performances.

"Hitchcock Blonde" has Andrews penning her most concrete song, about a woman whose life may or may not already be past her, "too late for rescue, too young to die." A tiny Andrews solo here amidst the full band only leaves the listener wanting more. Finally, "Testament" places the spotlight mainly on piano and voice once again, strongly written lyrics meshing elegantly with the haunting playing of Andrews. A highly effective turn on trumpet by Kamau Adilifu provides a strong if brief close to the CD, with Andrews and Adilifu trading riffs as they climb up and out of view, in search of a destination that's not at all certain, if indeed it's there at all.

It's a fine closing, one that welcomes that inviting loop back to track one. Unfortunately, the easy motion of Suburbs of Eden isn't quite fulfilling for me. Although the music is well constructed and the talent is undeniable, there's still something missing. Maybe it's the way that the tracks seem forcibly conformed to an average three-minute length, even though the CD runs only an anemic 27:20. Maybe it's that the interesting lines in these songs only occasionally coalesce into something more than the sum of their parts. Maybe it's that a part of every song here could be dropped into most adult contemporary pop songs without being out of place.

Still, on Suburbs of Eden, Debbie Andrews sets out to deliver a solid set of easily digested, pop-oriented songs built around her own delicate jazz piano and her impeccably strong voice, then finally fleshed out with a standard light rock band. For all that the execution of this mission left me vaguely unsatisfied, this is precisely what she does, and she does it well. If this description sounds a little too lacking in ambition for your taste, then perhaps you're right. On the other hand, if this genre of music is a place where you live, then I recommend this project with complete enthusiasm.

[ by Ken Fasimpaur ]

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