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January/February 2009

Alison Ruble
This Is a Bird
Origin Records

Alison Ruble’s gemlike voice recalls the crystalline beauty and purity of the young Joni Mitchell. Befitting such a jewel, the settings are equally fine. Guitarist John McLean has fashioned 11 thoughtful arrangements, hitting each tune’s core with the skill and precision of an expert marksmen. If only the same could be said of Ruble.

Traversing a wide-ranging playlist that extends from Cole Porter (“So in Love”) to James Taylor (“Something in the Way She Moves”), Ruble seems too often to skim the songs’ emotional surfaces. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “This Nearly Was Mine,” one of the most powerful evocations of romantic loss, is delivered with nary a dollop of regret. Likewise, Bacharach and David’s “Always Something There to Remind Me” fails to capture the lyric’s wistful reminiscence, and another Rodgers and Hammerstein masterwork, “We Kiss in a Shadow,” is missing the heart-quickening thrill of clandestine passion. There’s no genuine longing in her “If I Had You,” nor adequate romantic thrall in her “It’s Magic.”

In her defense, Ruble’s “Skylark” captures precisely the right sense of hope-fueled yearning, and her “Lazy Afternoon” is a superb study in hushed desire. Vocally, Rumble is a diamond, glittering and near flawless. But like a diamond, she can lack warmth and depth. While admittedly gorgeous, what this necklace of an album needs is a few fiery emeralds and blood-drenched rubies.

Originally published in January/February 2009
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