Almost Famous is one of my all-time favorite movies. If I ‘d had any balls at all (and maybe a teacher who encouraged me), I might have become like the lead character in that film…or Cameron Crowe. Anyway, intern Scott recently had a brush with being nice versus being an honest professional music reviewer. He knows I am an Angela Sheik fan and worried that if he wrote anything besides glowing praise for her recent album, that I (or she) might be upset. I think he wrote a suitable and quite substantial review for his first try. I guarantee that Angela performed a magnificent set of live music at Lancaster Dispensing Company 4/27 for LAUNCH Music Conference. I encourage you to read Scott’ review, download Angela’s latest album One By One, and see her in concert immediately. I’m working already to bring her back to town! Here we go!
Scott Davis 3/28/13
Angela Sheik One By One Review
Chilling and warm; haunting and inviting; digital and natural. Such are the contrasting words that come to mind when listening to Angela Sheik’s newest album, One By One. The critically acclaimed singer-songwriter, musician, looper-extraordinaire’s new album finely tiptoes the line between warm and inviting songs and cold, haunting melodies often about relationships good and bad. Ms. Sheik has garnered a storm of positive press around her unique folky-pop, electro-acoustic sound with her use of digital looping pedals to craft a blend of piano, string instruments, flutes, and percussion. Combined with her raw, powerful voice, there isn’t anyone making quite the musical blend like Ms. Sheik’s.
As mentioned, One By One is an album of contrasts. Lyrically, Sheik focuses much of her energy to sing about relationships. Musically, however, Sheik often combines love songs with chilling melodies and slower tempos to create some dramatic ballads. There are songs like “Love U Right,” “Glad You’re Here,” and a cover of “Falling (Can’t Help Falling in Love),” all of which are positive long songs, lyrically. In these cases, Sheik is direct with her approach, yet still able to write poetic lines like, “You and me, love, we’ve seen the world/ We cross the ocean like we’re crossing a street/ We’ve walked the skyline so many times/ That the blue has stained the soles of our feet,” in “Love U Right.” Sheik’s approach is surprising as she takes these pure love songs and turns them into cold, chilling ballads, often with heavy keys, soaring vocals, and crashing percussion as seen in the aforementioned “Love U Right” and “Falling (Can’t Help Falling in Love).” Sheik occasionally chooses to deviate from this pattern like on the charming “Pledge of Allegiance,” one of the album’s most intimate songs, with its plucking acoustic guitars, twinkling keys, and heartfelt lyrics.
The musical and lyrical contrast is also evident in some of the most energetic songs on the album. Whereas one would expect somber-sounding ballads to go with songs about broken relationships or disappointing years, Sheik flips the idea on the head and turns some of the more lyrically negative songs into upbeat, louder tunes. “My Turn” is a song about giving loved ones a taste of their own medicine – “Now it’s my turn to leave you standing there/ My turn to say that I don’t care” – and features a more up-tempo beat with a pop melody. “This Year” finds Sheik at her heaviest with bluesy, distorted guitars, and a snarl in her voice as she sings about turning her life around from a less-than-ideal prior year.
However, where Sheik occasionally runs into trouble is inconsistency with her overall sound. As mentioned, Sheik has a powerful, deep, raw voice that seems to work best with energetic, natural music accompanying it. “Rumblin’,” for example, perhaps the finest song on the album, finds Sheik singing with a deep growl, with a rhythmic acoustic chord progression giving the song a Western feel. Her own background vocals repeat on a loop to create a mini-Sheik choir, and a couple of flute solos really get the song moving. Other songs with more natural textures, like the aforementioned “This Year” and “Pledge of Allegiance” work best precisely because of how the instruments blend with Sheik’s natural voice. On some songs, the keyboard tinkering and digital percussion clash with the raw power of her voice, forming sounds that don’t quite blend. Furthermore, that same raw power doesn’t always translate as well to some of the slower, more dramatic ballads, where her voice and energy can be restrained. Compared to Sheik’s live act, where she’s won awards for her skills on a looping pedal, the album at times fails to capture the raw, one-woman-band talent Sheik possesses. At times, in a recorded rather than live setting, the album contrasts in a negative way in the collision of digital elements and Sheik’s own natural talent.
Fortunately, this is only Ms. Sheik’s second LP, which means that it’s still early in the game. A musician with as much obvious talent as Sheik can surely figure out where her niche is and how to better define her overall musical approach. If the main gripe of One By One is that Sheik’s musical reach is a bit too far spread, trying to juggle too many elements, then she need only to look at songs where she’s at her best – preferably in a more natural, musical state, as mentioned in songs like “Rumblin’” and “Pledge of Allegiance” – and expand upon them. Defining a musical sound isn’t easy, but considering the steps Angela Sheik has already taken in creating her own unique blend of folk-pop, the future appears bright.