New vocalists arrive with the regularity of baby rabbits or James Patterson novels. But every year there is at least one whose emergence seems especially auspicious. Among female practitioners, Norah Jones was one, as were Jackie Ryan, Kate McGarry, Gretchen Parlato and Kat Edmonson. Becca Stevens now joins the roster.
Stevens, as noteworthy a guitarist as she is a singer, actually made her debut three years ago with the self-produced Tea Bye Sea, and last year enhanced five of the tracks on pianist Taylor Eigsti’s Daylight at Midnight. But it is with the stunningly diverse Weightless that the brilliance of Stevens and her musical companions—pianist, accordionist and vocalist Liam Robertson, bassist and vocalist Chris Tordini and drummer/percussionist Jordan Perlson—becomes fully realized.
That Stevens shares McGarry’s ability to synthesize folk, rock and jazz is undeniable. Their stylistic similarity is acute, as is their common debt to Joni Mitchell’s phrasing. The opening title track is, as billed, lighter than air. It signals the group’s ability to echo the harmonic splendor of Crosby, Stills and Nash while also igniting the album’s cunning interplay, musically and thematically, of lightness and darkness. Stevens’ choice of covers is impressively judicious, including the Smiths’ “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,” Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” and Animal Collective’s “My Girls.” But her originals are equally rousing, particularly the cautionary “The Riddle” and the stormily steadfast “No More,” on which Stevens and company form a heavenly union with guest vocalist Parlato.