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(12th September) A fresh addition to exciting independent record label Bella Union's eclectic roster, America's Stephanie Dosen looks set to cause a stir and turn more than just a few heads with her recently released album A Lilly For The Spectre (Bella Union (UK) BELLACD137P, 2007). Clocking in at just under forty five minutes in length, the female singer-songwriter presents eleven songs of delightful adventure and enchantment, with an album that holds a magical vibrancy and inspiring energy inside each carefully crafted song.
Stephanie grew up in the picturesque surroundings of a farm and her background helps form the inspiration for her music, most notably within the lyrical content which is filled with strong imagery of mystical escapes and the night-time wildlife, of the peace and tranquillity found inside places blossoming with nature. Originally composing songs for boys at her school as a young girl she now writes for 'ghosts gone astray' who are supposedly much nicer than the boys she once wrote for. I never thought I'd feel jealous of a ghost, yet to have a song written for you by the lovely Stephanie is something certainly to cherish and it's easy to see her calming any spirits away from their hauntings as they rest and take in her transfixing sounds. The music itself showcases the quite beautiful voice Stephanie possess, as she sways over plucked acoustics and sweeping string work. Simplicity is the gift of this album. Short, serene compositions that uplift and are bursting with rich imagery.
Opening the album is perhaps its strongest moment, first single "This Joy" A piece which opens with gently picked acoustic guitar work before Stephanie's voice glides into the song, perfectly complimenting the delicacy of the instrumentation and instantly capturing the listener through her words which are sung with moving emotion. Lyrically, the title alone should be indication this songs theme is one of a highly uplifting, positive nature. Refreshingly so, and the carefully placed strings only enhance the song, as they rise with the chorus, lending it a majestic and powerful edge. "Only Getting Better" holds a wonderfully serene pace to it. The shuffling drums guide the song to a swaying ease, as Stephanie speaks of the confidence of hard times coming to an end, struggle replaced by the comfort of friendship and promise of new horizons: "Friends are all here now, and everyone is here with open arms, hands and shaking hearts. The world is gonna turn."
"Like A Dream" presents a soothing acoustic introduction, as we are treated to perhaps Stephanie's most impressive vocal performance, her voice hanging on for what feels like an eternity as it drifts this way and that, creating the impression of being inside the dream she conjures through her lyrical delivery. Simplistic in structure, yet ever so effective in its ability to completely wrap you in a world of sound, as the female vocals soften and the acoustic pluckings eventually fade away, closing the song perfectly. "Lakes Of Canada" is built around gentle piano notes and crooning male backing vocals that mimic the soothing Stephanie brilliantly, a perfectly placed song, and welcome change to the guitar finger picking and sweet melodies which seem to be the core focus and strength of this album.
Yet, it can also be its weakness. Purely in terms of the similar structure of the songs that can at times have you craving Stephanie to branch out, to experiment and play it less 'safe'. Here is an artist that holds the imagination and the confidence to stretch out to wherever she wishes her music to reach, and it's no coincidence that some of the finest moments on the album lie in the innovative vocal passages or the not-so-familiar song structures expected within the plethora of female singer songwriters. Still, this is only her second full length album and the real excitement will be built as to how her music progresses as writing begins for any future material.
It is this slight lack of diversity which is the only real weakness to an album that presents an exceptional talent to the world of singer-songwriters. An ethereal collection of songs ideal for those hazy summer evenings when the sun has set, the night-life has fallen all around and mood is one of tranquil peace.
A perfect addition to the Bella Union label, and
one young lady I expect we'll be hearing plenty of in the future, if this debut is anything to go by. --Jim Hall in Derby, England