Sky With Stars
Depending on what track number you punch to on her debut CD, Sky With Stars, Michal Towber sounds like either a peppy teenybopper, an angst-ridden Gen X rocker, a crown princess of Bangles-derived harmonic pop, or a wise and sensitive Tori Amos wannabe.
Given that she's only 19, and wrote all 12 of the songs on her debut herself (unlike bubblegum peers Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears who have panels of songwriter-producers behind them), her across-the-board stylistic approach is hardly surprising.
Michal is still finding her voice and developing her own style. What is surprising is that whatever form she turns her waifish voice to, the song comes out sounding sharp. "My Friend" kicks the disc off with a hand-clappin' Bo Diddley beat that's pure high school, "Perfect" is a quickly strummed singalong, "Free Dirt" is an Amos-esque aching heart mix of piano and heavy guitar and "Juliet's Refrain" melds buzzsaw guitars with a flurry of angry, accusing voices of love lost.
She covers a lot of stylistic ground between "My Friend" and "Juliet." And by the end of the album she's bringing in classical sounding piano elements and singing the sort of "important" sounding lyrics that have played well for Amos and Paula Cole:"If this is just a dream/if it's not all that it seems/I'll never wake"... or "everything is so peaceful/I'm blind but I'm blessed."
So who is this latest wunderkind?
Michal is a New York singer-songwriter who studied classical piano on a scholarship before picking up a guitar as a teen when she yearned to rock. She started playing her songs around town while in high school and one night after a Soul Asylum show, got up the nerve to pass a tape on to Soul Asylum singer Dave Pirner.
The guts paid off; Pirner not only liked the material, but agreed to produce some of it. He helped get her signed, and, to the envy of her classmates, even agreed to escort her to prom. Pirner proves to have good taste.
Michal's debut is an easy joy to listen to, and introduces a talent who sounds like she has years of inviting tunes waiting in the wings.
And while Michal may long to rock, as the near-industrial guitars of "Juliet's Refrain" suggest, her most impressive work is in her balladry.
"The Best Way" is a lyrical, classically influenced piano piece that observes smartly of relationships that "the best way to kill the ones you love/is to let them go." And the lilting Simon & Garfunkel simplicity of "April Is Gone" melds a melancholic cello with soft strummed guitar and a bittersweet vocal that oozes sincere beauty and emotion as she sings "Get in the car and drive the lonely road to town/the radio only plays the blues/If lately it seems that I don't believe in anything/I still believe in you."
Michal's Sky is filled with bright Stars that shine with the creativity of youth and the promise of the future. It's a refreshing breath of life for a stale processed pop scene.
Marshall Crenshaw reissued
Rhino Records has raided the Warner Bros. Records archives to reissue Marshall Crenshaw's first groundbreaking self titled album. Marshall Crenshaw hit the airwaves in 1982 with "Mary Anne" and "Someday, Someway"(the latter of which also appeared in the movie Night Shift).
While the critically acclaimed guitar pop songwriter got mild airplay in the early to mid-'80s, his jangly, retro style never really caught on big at pop radio despite a handful of picture perfect singalong albums.
Crenshaw was a former lead in the road show of Beatlemania who would go on to play Buddy Holly in 1987's La Bamba. His first record and subsequent work bore the influences of both of those seminal rock artists, and for a short while in the early '80s, along with peers like Dave Edmonds and Nick Lowe, he helped make classically echoed vocals and reverbed guitar "cool" again.
Rhino's reissue includes nine bonus tracks, mostly live cuts taken from the period of Marshall Crenshaw's release, as well as a couple of early demos, including "Whenever You're On My Mind," which he would later recut and release as the first single from his second album.
Rhino has also pulled together a career retrospective of Crenshaw's 1981-1996 output. This Is Easy! The Best of Marshall Crenshaw compiles tracks from his first seven studio albums, including "Someday, Someway," "Cynical Girl," "You're My Favorite Waste of Time," "Mary Anne," "Little Wild One (No. 5) and 17 more.