Maybe it’s because I grew up reading too much Hemmingway, watching too many Steve McQueen and John Wayne flicks with my dad, and listening to too many Rolling Stones records, but I seem to have been born with, or developed, a predisposition against female artists. Aside from a select few (Lucinda Williams, Aimee Mann, Patti Smith, Jesse Sykes, Victoria Williams, Cat Power, Aretha, etc.), it all sounds pretty much the same to me. Before I go on, I want to clarify that statement by repeating that it all sounds the same to me. This is to say that, to my ear, there’s not a discernible difference between, say, Feist and every other indie chanteuse in the world. I’m not saying the differences don’t exist, I’m just saying my ears – bludgeoned by years of the ‘Mats and Mudhoney – don’t pick them up. It’s my problem, I’m aware of it, I’m working on it.
All of that said, when I came upon Amanda Zelina’s record, Love Me ‘Til I’m Me Again (yeah, you’ve got to get past a clunky title), I was immediately taken aback, not just by Zelina’s voice but by the arrangements – reverb-drenched, spacey and distinct.
Before David Sitek buried Scarlett Johansson‘s voice in a sea of murky reverb, guitars, and synthesizers, arrangement was an aspect of record-making that seemed to go largely ignored by female artists in lieu of exposing their distinct voices, quirky and/or insightful lyrics, or both – as if arrangement and performance were somehow mutually exclusive.
Zelina’s voice is breathy and ethereal – two words often associated with female artists and perfected by the aforementioned Chan Marshall – but what sets Zelina apart is that she’s able to drift effortlessy back and forth between that breathy, reedy whisper and a full, powerful wail that owes a large debt to Carla Thomas (example: Zelina’s cover of “Try A Little Tenderness”). In short, she bridges the gaps between folk, rock and soul without seeming contrived or pedestrian. What Ray Lamontagne did for the cookie-cutter “sad guy with guitar” genre, Zelina does for coffee shop sirens everywhere.
Love Me ‘Til I’m Me Again may not show up on any end-of-the-year best of lists, but it’s a powerful effort from an artist who has given herself a very good chance at finding a foothold in a very crowded genre.