Erica Brooke,
Heart Like Mine
(EB Entertainment, 2003)

Erica Brooke is another attractive and hopeful girl singer in the myriad who may sink or swim depending on the breaks that come their way. She steers fairly clear of the maudlin love songs so prominent in the country genre, her CD being mainly upbeat country-rock. She opens with "What Love Looks Like," her band driving the tune hard as she sings or speaks the lyrics (I love the "Dr. Freud meets Dr. Seuss" line).

Although Brooke initially appears to have a powerful voice, it is quickly evident that most of her choices, including the title track, strain it to the limit. This effect is compounded when the recording balance mutes her singing in favour of the music. Erica manages to carry off the fourth track, "Hole in My Head," with conviction and follows hot on its heels with the punchy, passionate "Big Deal," which just begs for radio air-time and is the strongest track on the CD. Sadly, the bluegrass-based "Cowboy's Sweetheart" only underlines the fact that she is no Patsy Cline and lacks the purity of voice that can soar successfully into vibrato and yodel with panache! "Jealous," with the facile repetition of phrase readily associated with commercially aimed tracks, is more rock than country. The slower, emotive "Please Remember" demonstrates a voice harsh and burred in the higher range and also displaying some fade-out in sustaining the longer notes. That said, it is not a bad song, but she is much better with the brasher, sock-it-to-em style of "Daddy's Girl," which suits her rather raw, edgy voice. There is pleasing musical punctuation for the too-true lyrics: "...but there ain't a boy in the world, good enough for Daddy's Girl." The album concludes with the gentler "But I Do Love You," which doesn't make the demands of "Please Remember," but she sounds surprisingly flat on several phrases.

Keeping in mind that Erica is not yet 17, she should be able to realise her undoubted potential as she and her voice mature. This album is a melange of popular influence, and while enthusiasm and determination are admirable traits, she needs to be surer of her own voice and style before she becomes another casualty in the cutthroat world of the professional music industry. Any measure of leniency shown to the gutsy teenager who recorded her first CD at age 14 will no longer be valid for the same girl as she heads away from adolescence. She would certainly benefit from consolidating her talents for a couple of years, training solidly with a good vocal teacher and presenting herself anew at 19. She ought to look at her competition, and consider her own image, or lack of it -- hire experienced professionals (photographer, make-up artist and clothing adviser) and replace the unflattering snapshots apparently donated by friends or family that comprise her web gallery and CD cover with some attention-grabbing studio stills and eye-catching live shots! For someone who has toured four European countries with acclaim, there is a curious dearth of performance photos, decent or otherwise.

There are many worse CDs out there than Heart Like Mine, and many worse singers enjoying popular success. It is undemanding listening within the genre and will probably appeal to many. I think Erica Brooke is capable of better, however, and I hope she views this recording, not with complacency at her achievement so far, but as the beginning of a learning curve. While I was writing, a retired session musician with extensive international experience happened by. He agreed with my review, adding that in his opinion, she doesn't have a strong enough voice for country-rock, but with training, could do well in traditional country music or gospel. If she submits the catchy "Big Deal" to the radio stations around Nashville, she may well win her big break, and more importantly, a producer who can present her -- a remodeled image is compulsory -- and select the correct material for her to sing.

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 12 July 2003

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