(Mallets Bay Records, CD)
There is a school of thought that suggests you will never be more madly in love than you are in high school. The logic goes that, as we mature, the immediacy and wonder of love is muted by a more measured, levelheaded approach to romantic fulfillment. But even in the face of mortgages and kids, we never really stop longing for that sense of wide-eyed innocence, do we? That’s why a song like “Thirteen” by Big Star is so tender and gripping — it transports us back to adolescence. And it’s why young songwriters so often capture the raw emotion of heartache better than their more worldly, and world-weary, elders. Take, for example, 17-year-old pop songwriter Casey Lynn Dubie — yes, she’s Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie’s daughter. The Vermont native’s debut EP, In Your Atmosphere, while not without fawnlike missteps, is emotionally charged in a way only the young and lovestruck can truly appreciate.
The four-song quickie opens on “Anchor.” Over a driving, acoustic pop-rock groove, Dubie introduces herself as a formidable vocalist. Her tone and phrasing suggest maturity beyond her tender years, as does a sophisticated sense of lyricism — at least for radio-ready pop. “But honestly, a part of me still longed for the things of this place / And it’s taking up room, taking up space. / By these distractions that steal my peace and delay my destiny / But I’ve laid them down,” she sings before reeling in the hook at the chorus. It’s exactly the sort of angst-lite melodrama that plays so well with fans of teen superstar Taylor Swift, an acknowledged and rather obvious influence. But Dubie sidesteps mere hero worship with a surprisingly nuanced composition — even if the arrangement feels timid by comparison.
The title track begins as a lithely finger-picked acoustic ballad, complete with bowed cello accents. But, as any good radio ballad should, it explodes into glistening power pop at the chorus. Dubie lustily belts longing lines over ringing electric guitar arpeggios. She’s not reinventing the wheel here. But she mines the familiar constructs of the torch song well.
“Free to Be Yours” stands as the EP’s centerpiece, and is its most fully conceptualized and executed song. A punchy, piano-driven theme propels the tune through a smooth verse as it builds into the chorus. “I need to dive to surface, I need to hide to be found,” she intones, again displaying a knack for sly wordplay.
“Leaving You Behind” closes the EP on something of a down note, as Dubie fully succumbs to the schmaltz she so carefully skirts in the previous numbers. Even so, there are worse examples of pop-rock pandering just about anywhere on your FM dial. With time, Casey Lynn Dubie should mature into a considerable songwriter. Here’s hoping she doesn’t let growing up get in the way.
In Your Atmosphere by Casey Lynn Dubie is available at iTunes.