Becky Schlegel,
(IGO/Lilly Ray, 2010)

I reviewed Becky Schlegel's previous album, For All the World to See, in this space on 12 July 2008. Returning at that review now, I detect grudging praise alongside the irritated grumbling. Because I haven't heard that CD since, I have only fading memory and written record of how it struck me then. I made a conscious decision to let it sit when Dandelion, which I thought I might want to approach with fresh ears, showed up.

First of all, to state what all listeners, wherever they hail from on the musical spectrum, will notice, Schlegel has an impressively full vocal style able to encompass all sorts of emotional shadings. If I acknowledged as much last time around, here, however, I do so more happily. Either Dandelion is a better album than its predecessor, or I'm hearing Schlegel differently. Perhaps this time I'm not insisting that she be a country singer, because when I think of her that way, I think of the very modern pop sounds that pass for country in Nashville these days, and I get old-geezer grumpy. With fuller production and dumbed-down material, Schlegel would surely have a shot at the sort of the blink-of-the-eye Nashville stardom that further links Music City to the ways of disposable Los Angeles/New York City-style pop.

Having departed Minnesota, Schlegel currently resides in Nashville, presumably in search of the usual dreams. Of course, she has every right to them, and I don't doubt that with her good looks and striking voice she's marketable. I also don't doubt that whatever stardom might do for her finances, the inevitable consequence will be lousier music. The albums wouldn't be as good as this one is. Dandelion draws on influences that range from Judy Collins to Joni Mitchell to Nanci Griffith to Alison Krauss (one might add the emerging neo-folk star Caroline Herring if one thought Schlegel had heard of her) even as Schlegel renders herself her own artist with satisfyingly smart meditations on relationships, time and landscape -- all of the songs are her originals -- and appealingly imagined production, courtesy of herself and Brian Fesler (a guitarist/banjoist with an impressive bluegrass resume). The production is not traditional anything in particular (even if notable strands of country, folk and bluegrass weave through some cuts), but it is restrained, sensitive and tasteful, almost eerily attuned to song and voice.

On occasion I encounter a talented performer who forces me, however reluctantly, to contemplate the possibility that modern country-pop fails not so much in the idea as in the execution. If you don't insist that modern "country" singers sound like Loretta Lynn or Connie Smith (as, I confess, I am ordinarily wont to do), you can appreciate what Becky Schlegel is up to, which is fashioning a kind of rooted pop music for grown-ups. For your introduction, Dandelion has "Cincinnati," a song nobody could not like at the instant of introduction.

review by
Jerome Clark

17 April 2010

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