AMELIA WHITE "Black Doves" Funzalo MARY LEE'S CORVETTE "Love, Loss & Lunacy" Emergent
Washington Post, Friday, July 28, 2006; Page WE06
A MUSIC INDUSTRY bent on both pigeonholing and mass-marketing performers leaves many gifted artists in its wake. Too exploratory for country, too lush for punk, too folky for rock, Amelia White gets kissing-cousin status with alt-country because of her slight twang (the Virginia native now lives in Nashville). Like Aimee Mann, she wields a voice both powder-soft and powerful. And, like Mann, she has the backbone to attract uncompromising listeners who demand uncompromising musicians.
The song "Broke but Not Broken" exemplifies that artist-survivor mindset, but "Black Doves" doesn't waste time on self-pity. White offers a clear-eyed view of what's around her, whether it be the corruption of "Snakes and Pushers," set to a blood-dark syncopation, or the sweetness of love in "Sleeping Poppy." (If you do what I initially did and mishear the lyric as "you're my sleeping puppy," it's not White's fault; she develops her theme beautifully, with images of "a flower in the night / Closed up tight and hiding from the dark," defending itself against wind and uprootedness.)
"Dig Me Out" -- not the Sleater-Kinney song -- is a tale of rescue that makes the rescued protagonist no less strong and brave for recognizing her peril and the help she received. Rich backing vocals from Mack Starks, who wrote the song with keyboard player Neilson Hubbard, reinforce the tensile strength of White's staying power. A hidden track, "Lucky," is a delicate, lilting recognition of life's joy, written, White says, about a month after 9/11: "All the bad news and the way that I've been so blue / It all falls away from my shoulders."
Where White is organic, Mary Lee Kortes, of Mary Lee's Corvette, is a little polyester-shiny, though not insincere. She's the spike-haired Aimee Mann of Til Tuesday's "Voices Carry" video, busting out of the confines of uptight society with joy and desperation. In fact, there's something very '80s about Kortes's music: With its propulsive beat and sunny disposition, it's music for long road trips -- or very hip aerobic classes.
Kortes has been the subject of buzz in high places -- "Love, Loss & Lunacy" offers special thanks to the late Timothy White, the noted rock critic -- and she has assembled some high-powered friends here, including the Silos' Konrad Meissner on percussion, Rufus and Martha Wainwright collaborator Brad Albetta on keyboards and guitar wizard Eric "Roscoe" Ambel on electric 12-string and programming. Amid a crowd of charming songs -- with "All That Glitters" and "Nothing Left to Say" as up-tempo and sad-ballad exemplars, respectively -- it's the sonic palette that stands out. Even with a secondhand shop's worth of instruments, producer Stephen Butler keeps the sound garage-band spare. And right up front is the winsome Kortes, her soft, swooping voice both vulnerable and unsentimental.
-- Pamela Murray Winters