Image © S D Shumsky 2004
Photo by Karen Moskowitz
Image © S D Shumsky 2004
(30 June 2004) Blackberry Love (Guerilla Disc (USA) 2004) is Sheryl Diane's second CD. The first, Hotel Emo (released February 2003 and only available from CDBaby) was a demo album of eight songs, four recorded live and four others, "Someday," "Wish You Weren't," "Turnaround" and "Blackberry Love" which, developed and re-recorded, are the four songs which make up this EP. There are times when Sheryl's voice brings Kate Bush to mind, maybe a hint of Tori Amos too. But the songs and vocal style, especially in the phrasing, are distinctive - and she sings with power and verve and a sense of freedom.
The EP opens with "Someday," a song Sheryl wrote in her head while driving from Bellingham to Seattle which makes sense as it's a great track for driving to. Opening with a solid bass figure before the band enter it's a fascinating song. Lyrically, it's a stream of consciousness "Monday run off, rush away gone to catch a bus and a quick glimpse of some natural beauty going nowhere roads labyrinth under the gray day's discontent ..." There's a very relaxed feel to the musicianship, indicative of a good understanding. Sheryl's piano dominates, but the track has some lovely guitar fills and phrases from Thaddeus Turner and the bass and drums provide a solid and unobtrusive scaffold for the piano and guitar to build on. The drums are handled by Brian Young who's currently touring with The Fountains Of Wayne. "Someday" was written for Sheryl's friend Nancy (and originally titled thus) Sheryl says. "We weren't content with where we were at the time and adamant about evolving into our self-designed 'Someday'."
The second track "Wish You Weren't" is written from the view of a divorcee - and captures a more honest mix of emotions than is usually considered when the subject is covered. "I wish you weren't so tempting to me, I wish you weren't, wish you weren't". The song's written after Sheryl's separation from Joe Howard (aka Joe Bass or Joe Skyward), probably best known for his work in the Seattle based band The Posies. It's a song about loss of innocence and the inability to trust again. Yet Sheryl has a way of finding optimism in the bleakest of subjects and that's true for this song too. "Good things come to those who don't hesitate, could it be true ..." For this track Sheryl steps away from her piano and plays a keyboard styling a B3Hammond. There's a well established 'acid jazz' scene in Seattle and the B3 is the hallmark of it, and while it's a nod to her home-town crowd, I think my main objection to its use is that I don't feel her voice works as well with the B3 sound as it does with the piano. On the other hand, there's some stunning trumpet work by Bryan Sorum on this song which melds perfectly with the organ, especially in the play out.
"Turnaround" was effectively recorded 'live' in the studio with her band The Figs (Kevin Guess on drums and Kate Coniff on bass) - they played it twice and this was the better cut of the two. It's perhaps the least immediate song on the CD, but will grow and grow on you and the repeated mantra of 'Turnaround' will end up spinning through your head hours after you've taken the disc from the player. Sheryl says the song's about "the lack of a real cure for the downward spiral ... homelessness, alcohol abuse ..." Lyrically the track contains some exceptional images and phrases "you are walking wounded on the downside of the night"; "A bitter burden like a child's unspeakable grief". Immensely powerful.
The closing track "Blackberry Love" is as sensuous a song and vocal performance as I've come across in a long, long time. The instrumentation is simple, a repeating bass figure, and drums. The whole song is dominated by Sheryl's outstanding vocal performance. As with much of the work on this album, the phrasing is uniquely her own as are the vocal stylings - it's just a breathtaking piece of work. Perhaps what's most extraordinary about this song is that despite the overt sexual overtones and feel of the piece, it was, she says "written in almost one pen stroke", while her children were watching Sesame Street! "I wasn't involved with anyone at the time, but most of my experience with love was passionate and painful, so when I relocated to the PacificNorthwest I was in a state of self-analysis, surrounded by the Himalayan Blackberry, which I thought was the most beautiful plant, and it is truly amazing. It grows wildly and fast and bears delicious fruit, it persists to try to bloom even up to the first snow! A metaphor for love surely."
It's hard to find anything negative to say about this EP beyond the fact that it's 8 tracks shorter than I'd like it to be and that personally I could live quite happily without the organ on "Wish You Weren't." I suppose the fact that each track opens with the bass could be a considered a slight weakness. Hotel Emo contained three songs of Sheryl performing live alone at the keyboard for Radio KAOS at Evergreen State University and I would have loved to have heard a studio recorded piano/voice version of "I Believe" and/or "Moon" added to this disc. But maybe she's hanging on to these and others for the full album which I sincerely hope she won't keep us waiting for for too long.--Jamie Field