One Of These Days
Criticizing this as I would any other album and forgetting everything I know about Helen Slater (like the fact that I was 16 when The Secret of my Success came out, and um, er, yummy), I would say that it is an extremely promising first try. Slater has the goods, but hasn’t quite figured out how to wrap them up yet. At its best (“Touch And Go,” “Home”), her songwriting has an affectingly human quality, like the music running through your head. Elsewhere (“Love Comes In”), her songs would seem to make perfect sense only to Slater and presumably her family and friends.
There’s a sameness to the songs here that, depending on how generous you feel like being, represents either a consistency of vision or a lack of inventive sparkle. I am inclined to be generous. Liner notes state what Slater and producer Phil Swann were trying to do. So, it must be judged at least in part on the basis of how well does it accomplish that, and what does that mean, not what I would have done.
The answer to the first question is enchantingly well. The album is driven almost completely by Slater’s piano and vocals, with Jim Hoke’s flute and autoharp standing out among guest musicians. The overall effect is like that of a jazz-influenced score for a PBS animated special. Elemental and tasteful in almost all ways, quite disarmingly charming upon the ear. It can be justly argued against the album, however, that the decision to record the songs all in one day in live takes makes for a narrow listening experience at times.
The points of comparison that come to mind listening to Slater are such “alternative” singer/songwriters as Kendall Payne and Tara MacLean. Like them, she is clearly a sister to Sarah McLachlan, Jewel and Alanis Morrisette. But she at once finds more and less in her musical ruminations than they do. To my ears, anyway. Vocals are gentle and piano playing is assured; she has a natural talent for both. You never find yourself asking why Slater has thrown her hat into the ring of singer/songwriters. In fact as albums by beautiful actresses go, this is the best since Milla Jovovich’s Divine Comedy.
The high wire all artist/entertainers walk, though, is to keep something true to yourself while meaningful to your audience as well, and more experienced singers than her have made a hash of it.
Helen Slater: www.helenslater.com