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Freaky Little Story CD Cover
Image © Megan Slankard 2003

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Lady Is A Pirate
 

(02 February 2004) Megan Slankardís debut album Lady Is A Pirate (2001), recorded at home when she was 17, was a very fine album (review). Despite the simple instrumentation of acoustic guitar and bass, Megan's extraordinary voice and varied, accomplished songwriting maintained interest effortlessly over the album's thirteen tracks. The songs had the feel of stripped-back rock numbers rather than folksy female singer-songwriter, so it's no surprise to find that for her second album Freaky Little Story (MSB2386, 2003), Megan's gathered a band around her. There is a certain danger in this.

A band can, as often as not, place a straightjacket around the material of some of the more imaginative and individual songwriters, but on this album, Megan's unique songwriting hasn't been hindered in any way and the band proves very sympathetic to the material while filling out the sound and succeeding in making it more accessible to a wider audience than its predecessor. Mike Hsieh plays electric guitars; Dave Moffet handles the bass and Ian Stambaugh plays drums, with Megan playing acoustic guitar. This time around the band tracks were recorded at a professional ProTools studio, with the vocals again being recorded at her home.

The new approach is stated boldly with the opening chord of the opening track "Too Bad You." The whole band hit it! The song's got a really fine chorus hook and the lyrics show the same sense of subtle, sly humour that marked her debut. "It's too bad you hate the way I laugh / you think it's phony / but sometimes this can be so damn hilarious." Unsurprisingly, her voice has matured a lot in the two years between albums. There are not many who could sing the word 'pretentious' and make it sound so damn sexy! Also, she seems to be far more aware of her voice as an instrument and what it's capable of; the range, tone and emotion of the vocals on this album is extraordinary.

"Mocking Bird" opens with voice and rhythmic, high-fret acoustic guitar, the band joining in on the second verse. The song has a lovely feel. It also contains some subtle scratching and sampling (courtesy of Anthony Cole) which actually proves a little distracting. It's a nice idea and worth trying, but I'm not convinced that it adds anything to the song as a whole. In contrast, the vocal harmonies do. "Dirty Wings" is another with a great chorus hook and the band aren't afraid to pull back for the verses, giving Megan's voice plenty of space. This is followed by "Captain Madness," which contains even better harmonies; the snare is maybe a little too aggressive in the mix, especially in the intro, otherwise this is a gorgeous track with a fine chorus, but an even better verse.

"Addy's Tattoo" is basically Megan with her acoustic guitar, the depth being given by some plaintive cello (Sam Leachman). Again there's some wonderfully effective vocal harmony. The overall effect is utterly beautiful. A fabulous track. "Lose Me" is another upbeat song with some fine lyrics. "Give Life" is musically complex with a verse in 5:4 and the chorus in 6:8. It works seamlessly and to great effect. "Forgive," and "Nearly Almost Always Nearly Almost Anything," though very fine, perhaps don't quite match up to the rest of the album. The former has a good groove in the verse due to a terrific bass line, but it doesn't seem to gel as a whole quite as well as the other songs. The latter is accompanied by two acoustic guitars (Mike Hsieh adding his to Megan's), but the song, though very pretty, doesn't seem to be quite certain where it's going. Possibly both these were written before Megan had got the band together rather than being written with the band in mind.

"Holding Off" opens with the lines "Pierre is walking under a red umbrella / the clouds look like an animal." Observational Surrealism (if it didnít exist before, it does now!) "Whispers are spreading like miles of winter." ... "Someoneís lonely saxophone strangles him with a lone note." This is wonderful stuff; and there's another great chorus to go with it all too.

"Itís All My Fault (But Iím Not Sorry)" also has a fine chorus, there's a little echo of Alanis Morissette in this song--as there is in the opening track--the octave leap in the vocal. "Flying Backwards," is the most intimate song on the CD performed as just Megan and her acoustic guitar. In isolation, it's very, very effective with a fine lyric, but it doesnít quite fit with the mood and style of the album as a whole. The closing track "The Freak Out Song," has a great rhythmic feel to it, beautifully arranged--possibly inspired by Fiona Apple and her producer Jon Brion--and there's a hidden track too, so donít eject.

Megan Slankard is gifted with a wonderful and distinctive voice together with a way of looking at the world that isn't quite like anybody else's. On this CD she's successfully managed to walk the fine line between originality and commerciality, and that's a very rare trick indeed. She wrote and arranged all the songs and, with Chris Holmes, co-produced and co-mixed the album. She took the photos of the boys in the band used in the artwork too.

Megan Slankard is a unique talent and if she can maintain her individuality and independence (heaven forbid any of the majors getting their hands on her!) and just keep doing things in her own way and in her own time then who knows what she might be capable of. Great voice, great songs, great album--and if thereís any justice in the world, a great future.--Jamie Field

 
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