(New Clear Music, CD)
Vermont has long been famous as an outpost for leftist ideals and lovey-dovey hippie happiness - these are the "green" mountains, after all. But sometimes all that talk makes the place feel more like a commune than a community. It's wonderful that so many residents are peaceful folk, but it doesn't necessarily translate well in their music.
Burlington's Dawna Hammers is one such artist. Her self-described "music for the heart and soul" is an easy-to-swallow mix of smooth jazz, world beat and milquetoast '70s balladry. On Melody, her third CD, she swoons and croons through nearly a dozen tender-hearted tunes and soupy spirituals.
"Dance With You" kicks off the disc with a loping, mellow groove and touches of slinky saxophone. The title track adds a nifty piano intro and slows the tempo, but ultimately wanders down the same forgettable path.
Hammers has lyrical and vocal strengths, but lacks originality. Although she avoids some singer-songwriter clichés, her words don't add much personality to the music. Despite a few nice turns of phrase here and there, the end result sounds like any number of coffeehouse acts. And the tune "Medicine Woman" has some truly bizarre prose. "I want to be a medicine woman/I want to learn about medicinal plants/I want to be a medicine woman/Through the forest let my wild spirit prance," she sings.
Hammers' piano playing is the highlight of the disc; she has a gift for turning simple figures into beautiful melodic flurries. Still, the best parts of her songs are the instrumental intros and codas. "Feel Fine" begins with an impressive, airy piano fill, but rather quickly devolves into a limp funk chorus.
"One Spirit," the album's strongest cut, features Babatunde Olatunji, the African drummer who counted John Coltrane among his fans. The track has a sense of purpose and immediacy that's missing from much of the disc - possibly because it was recorded on the evening of 9/11. If Hammers were able to channel this level of emotion more often, her music would improve dramatically. Though there are some bright spots along the way, the majority of Melody is little more than fluffy, mediocre pop.