Ever listen to The Innocence Mission? They’re a stoically whimsical pop band that rode out the ’90s on a wave of post-Sundays acoustic guitars and cooing femme vocals. As heavenly as singer Karen Peris’s voice was, it was also the most polarizing aspect of the band. There was something slightly off in her awkward enunciation and vocal tone once it slid past certain registers. It wasn’t something I’d call “bad,” but it certainly was an acquired taste. When Lisa Cerbone delivers her first line on Ordinary Days, it sounds like it might be an uphill struggle to enjoy her alto warble. Yet, she quickly dispatches these trappings and reveals herself to be an composite of Peris, Juliana Hatfield’s breathless school girl call and Mimi Parker’s lilting twang.
Lyrically, Cerbone runs into problems. There are a lot of “I”s and “you”s, but there’s a distinct lack of intimacy and uniqueness to them. More often than not, Cerbone remains too guarded to complete the portraits she begins, rendering them bland and generic. There are exceptions, though, like on the vague but evocative “Swallowing Stones” and the reflective concrete imagery of “Araby.” If she was looking for advice in the lyric department, she didn’t need to go any farther than her producer Mark Kozelek (of Red House Painters fame and the sad-core singer/songwriter archetype). Musically, Kozelek creates the same rustic soundscapes here he’s done for over a decade with his own band. Sturdy acoustic guitar notes provide a lovely crosshatching behind the vocals, while a fluid, almost imperceptible bass line flows through the background. It’s an expansive framework built with a minimum of sound, adding the color and texture Cerbone can’t yet muster herself. She has a wonderful voice, she just needs to work on what she wants to say with it.
Lisa Cerbone: http://www.lisacerbone.com/