Michele Mercure,
Giving Up the Ghost
(This Girls Music, 2004)

Michele Mercure has an edge to her voice and anger in her lyrics. But Giving Up the Ghost is no mindless, witless rant against any of the varied issues of the day; this collection of songs is well-thought, considered and poetic, delivered with gentle intensity.

This all-original, self-produced album begins with "Superhero," a nicely packaged song about strength and weakness with shades of a gritty Alanis Morissette in Mercure's voice. For the most part, the album features nice, simple arrangements; this is primarily a girl and a guitar, and it's her voice and her words that should draw most of your attention. She describes her music as "electo-alterna-folk," and it's as good a label as any.

"Pushcart," ostensibly about a homeless woman observed from the safety of a nearby shelter, has a harsher edge. It's followed by "Moving," which shows Mercure's tender, more vulnerable side. "I am moving mountains. / But all I really want to do ... is move you." It's surprisingly gentle after the angry shove that ends "Pushcart."

While the line "not in Kansas any more" might be a trifle cliched, it's used here in an aggressive song of entitlement. "Kansas" is an infectious track with a more ambitious arrangement than the preceding five; the use of violin, percussion and wordless backing vocals here in particular buttress Mercure's strong vocals. It's a distinctive sound that, overall, the album could have used more often, breaking away from a certain sameness that plagues the recording.

"Statue of Liberty" falls at the other end of the spectrum, a softer sound and more streamlined arrangement. "Lesson," with its poetic use of artists, evocative violin accompaniment and a more developed arrangement, is probably my favorite track on the album.

Besides vocals, Mercure plays guitars and synthesizers and adds various loops and programming to the mix. Guests are Kris Frey (bass on all songs, plus a smidge of electric guitar), Robin Chambers (violin on two tracks) and Gregory Douglass (background vocals on two tracks). The mix is clean and polished, although there are a few spots -- like, for instance, in "Scoops & Scandals" -- where the vocals are a bit muddied, as if she were lurking behind her instruments instead of standing in front of them.

Mercure is an inquisitive, introspective, strongly opinionated singer who pushes the envelope with strong lyrics. While there are obvious comparisons to Morissette and Meredith Brooks, I'd say she is poised to emulate Eleanor McEvoy (see a review of her CD Yola) -- which I consider a pretty big compliment. Giving Up the Ghost doesn't have enough variety or emotional connection to be truly outstanding, but Mercure is so close to getting there, it seems a shame to wait.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 31 July 2004

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