Tara MacLean Tara MacLean
(Nettwerk Records)

If you're looking for an antidote to Alanis Morissette, Tara MacLean's new disc may be just the thing. Discovered by the same Canadian label that brought us Sara McLachlan, MacLean shares many of the musical benchmarks that make McLachlan's music an entrancing, often haunting listen. Silence is filled with personal, powerful songs that rely as much on stillness as on sound. Her subjects range from child abuse and loss to self-affirmation and hope, and her musical backdrop moves from ethereal, harmony drenched warmth to red-lit lounge jazz.

Her touch is generally softer than either Tori Amos or McLachlan, but MacLean is bound to garner comparisons to McLachlan for her vocal phrasing and to Amos for the "personal awakening" lyrics to her moving "Let Her Feel The Rain," which appears twice on the album (once with percussion, and the other a quieter, acoustic version). The song was originally recorded in 1995 for a benefit album for rape crisis centers.

Strangely enough, her biggest stumble on the album is the song the disc is named after, "Silence," which features only a repetitively plucked guitar as MacLean croons a bit monotonously about the depths of despair: "cause I'm long past feeling and I'm loading my gun/staring at my ceiling/I know silence better than anyone." MacLean's description of why she named the album Silence turns out to be more gripping than the song:

"When you are spending time in solitude or out in the woods, there can be so much chatter in your head that when it stops, you can filter out distractions and hear the original voice," she says. "Truth speaks to you in silence. It is the only place you can hear it."

But if the song "Silence" is somewhat tedious, its followup, "Red" is captivating. MacLean sings above the dull murmur of a conversation between two lovers as a loung jazz band (with sax) plays a melancholy staff. It's a familiar theme of love lost, with a clever twist on the lyrics:

"So when you're between her lips
and the spine of her bed
when everything turns red
well I see red as well
when you see the colour of love
I see the colour of hell."

A gentle string and guitar arrangement graces "Holy Tears," another song of regret (An unlisted instrumental version of this song also ends the disc.) "In The Wings," one of the album's finer moments is a beautiful, delicate piano and cello-backed ballad that compares the end of love to the onset of winter. Its words seem particularly cutting during the current cold spell:

"Through this bitter, bitter cold
I thought I'd always have you to hold me
through the storm
and keep me warm
through this bitter, bitter cold."

MacLean is a new talent well worth watching...and listening to.


Merrill Bainbridge Merrill Bainbridge
The Garden

The chattering of birds and a hypnotic acoustic guitar open Bainbridge's luscious album and it's focus track, "Garden In My Room." This song has everything: a French cafe accordion, seductive double entendre lyrics ("lay your head on my flowerbed/rest your body on my velvet roses"), and a singer whose voice exudes both innocence and seduction.

"Garden In My Room," opens The Garden with a coy lyrics and an easy beat, but don't let your feet be lulled. This is truly a wild jungle of an album — filled with lush love songs ("Month"), crunchy pop songs ("Sleeping Dogs"), and even a touch of Irish fiddle ("Power of One").

On much of the album, Bainbridge pulls together whimsical arrangements that quietly set off her lilting vocals. In "Under The Water," bass male vocals accompany her, a harmonica and an easy-ocean beat as she sings a mermaid song. And in "Miss You," a jaunty guitar,d rum and "la-la-la" melody (and a tuba) underscore a lyric about missing a lost lover. "Reasons Why" sounds like Olivia Newton-John paired with a cheesy 1980s synthesizer, but somehow its charm is undeniable. Bainbridge even tosses in an acoustic guitar version of Pet Shop Boys' "Being Boring" (With the synthesizers stripped away, it almost sounds like a melancholy folk tune.)

Bouncy, chirpy and very often, sweet as the best honey, The Garden is filled with a varied arrangement of songs that never seem to wilt.