- Amber deLaurentis, Innocent Road
(self-released, CD, digital)
With her chin cupped in the palm of her hand, elbow gently resting on her pink-tulle-covered knee, Amber deLaurentis has a wistful glint in her eye on the cover of her latest album, Innocent Road. She looks like a grown-up Disney princess about to burst into song — perhaps something from the prime Alan Menken era of the late '80s/early '90s.
But deLaurentis, along with songwriting collaborators Sarah Blue and deLaurentis' husband, Tom Cleary, dreams up a collection of tunes much more complicated and compelling than anything that ever came out of Ariel's or Belle's lips.
DeLaurentis and Cleary both teach music at the University of Vermont and have worked closely with Blue for years. With Colin McCaffrey and Lane Gibson, two of Vermont's premier audio techs, literally in the mix, the result is a heady and eclectic work of adult contemporary pop. This is a group of people who know how to wield music to its fullest. They know the rules, and they know how and when to break them, as evidenced in an eight-track treasure trove of compositional and conceptual complexity.
DeLaurentis and co. mostly explore soulful Americana, light modern jazz and sophisti-pop territory. They also look to older sources of inspiration, particularly on "Deepening Days." Somewhat reminiscent of the Roches' early work, the song comes off like a modern-day madrigal with puzzle-piece harmonies and brittle harpsichord.
"Close to Me," with its peppy beats, pleasantly peaceful piano and airy scat singing, reminds listeners that deLaurentis and Cleary are known for playing and teaching jazz. But the duo has a lot more ground to cover.
Of many fine moments throughout, the most ear-catching tune is "You Ran the Red Light," a powerful pop-rock anthem about mounting tension and a cathartic release that is inevitable, no matter the consequences. It almost sounds like something from the Police's Synchronicity era with its guitar arpeggios and cascading, double-tracked lead vocals paired with high-toned background vocals. (Also, didn't the Police have a song about a red light?)
The group taps into dusty country-soul on "A Couple of Aches." Bright horns, steamy organs and voluptuous background vocals converge in a song that could be alternately titled "Amber's Lament."
Closer "Little Autumn Moon" epitomizes the album's tendency to pair straightforward pop machinations with anti-pop accoutrements. What begins as a straightforward piano ballad eventually becomes a fugue-like breakdown of melismatic ahs, plucked strings, finely harmonized vocals and drum-line snares.
DeLaurentis, Cleary and Blue craft a solid assemblage on Innocent Road. They wisely skirt pretension and self-seriousness, two pitfalls common in the adult contemporary genre. In short, Innocent Road is worth the trip.
The album is available on CD Baby.