(All Album Reviews by ffroyd)
Like the Sirens of Greek mythology, Emily Bezar has a voice that lured me in and before I knew it, I was in danger of being completely blown away. This California native has been creating a name for herself over the past decade and with Exchange, her fifth album, she just might get the recognition she deserves. While her soprano and dynamic vocal range will draw immediate comparisons to women like Kate Bush and Happy Rhodes, I’ve found that the more I listen to this album, the more I’m thinking her style is very distinctive.
Not content with being just another pretty face with an amazing voice, Emily is a genuinely talented musician, producer and arranger. I would even go as far as saying her songwriting talent and keyboarding abilities almost overshadow the fact that she has a beautiful voice. She has a masterful jazz piano ability and also is no slouch when it comes to using spacey synthesizer sounds in her aural sculpting. She has been compared to Tori Amos for these multi-talented qualities and I would totally agree with that. If that weren’t enough, Emily has a remarkable flair for lyric writing. She is a true wordsmith of the highest order.
The band accompanying Emily on this music is quite incredible as well, made up of several extremely talented San Francisco Bay Area session players. On electric and acoustic bass is Dan Feiszli, on drums is Mark Bernfield, on guitar is Mike Ross, on saxophones (soprano, alto and tenor) is Phillip Greenlief, on trumpet is Chris Grady, on trombone is Jen Baker, on violin is Alan Lin, and on cello is Beth Vandervennet. While none of these names are particularly that well known, they are all excellent musicians and make the music on this album really come to life.
The music on Exchange can be quite diverse, covering a vast array of different styles, often several in the same piece. The tracks are often rather lengthy, gving the music a chance to have a life of it’s own. The opening track “Saturn’s Return” has a nice rock foundation with steady bass, wah-wahed guitar and lots of keyboards and effects. “Anything They Say” is a nice moody track featuring some lots of haunting synth and ghostly vocals. I often times hear qualities in Emily’s voice that remind me of Lynnette Shelly from The Red Masque, there’s a similar ominous tone. “Lament” is, as the title leads us to believe, a sorrowful track about lost love. There’s some great organ in the background as well as some mourning sax.
Things pick up pace a bit on “That Dynamite” which has a bright fusion rhythm with lots of sound effects and cool multi-tracked vocals. There are many spots on here that make this an awesome headphone album and this is a prime example of that. “Heavy Air” has an almost bossanova beat with lots of great brass arranging and some really cool acoustic bass work from Feiszli. This track gets kind of weird in spots and almost reaches an avant-garde level but never gets out of control. ”Strange Man” has some ambient keyboard sounds at the beginning. When the funky beat kicks in, Emily plays some really cool electric piano parts as well as lots of other keyboard sounds.
“Glory or Crazy” is another piece with eerie vocals. There’s a swing beat that makes me think of Angelo Badalamenti’s soundtrack work in things like Twin Peaks. “Climb” has a bright and toe tapping jazz standard feel with some really interesting play-on-words lyrical content. It seems almost out of place on an album where just about everything is out of place so…I guess it’s not really that unusual. “Winter Moon” features some abstract synth spacey elements in the early part of the song, a slinky acoustic bass line and some wild string improvisations towards the end. Emily’s voice gets some nice cavernous echo effects here. This 11-minute piece might just be the highlight of the album for me. The title track ends the album quite appropriately with mainly just grand piano and vocals.
Overall, this is quite an impressive album. I’m sure folks that appreciate great female vocalists will definitely want to check this one out. There is quite a lot going on in the music, not just impressive vocals over mediocre backing tracks. I guess like Odysseus, it’s possible to encounter the enchanting voice of a Siren and live to tell about it and you don’t have to tell the folks around you to plug up their ears… they just might like it, too.