Perched high up in the Berkeley hills, overlooking the streets and scenes of San Francisco’s even more liberally-minded sister city, Ash Reiter (the singer-songwriter) and drummer Will Halsey created and continued to tweak many of the tracks making up Paper Diamonds by Ash Reiter (the band).
Venturing down below into the clubs of Oakland and Berkeley proper, and yes, across the bay to San Francisco and beyond, Ash Reiter gives her lightly electrified brand of folk rock an added oomph that, even when it doesn’t take right away, eventually gets a quorum of her audience on their feet to dance.
Ash’s smokey, “honey and whiskey” (as she describes it) voice might be the kind of thing one hears a lot these days in female-fronted indie folk bands (think of Jolie Holland, or Correatown), but there’s something different about the way she does it. It could be the casual synergy between Ash and Will, which was what first made my own jaw drop the first time I heard them play. It was that intro to “Stumble and Fall,” where Ash’s voice gently floated above a soft pillow of Will’s malleted drums. “There’s a ghost in my head,” she sang. “There’s a ghost in my bed. There’s a ghost in my chest. And he will not let me rest.” It could also be that, as she sang those words, it was as if she was reading my mind.
And then there’s her bassist, Mike Spreer, who sympathetically switches from following root notes, to walking bass lines in jazzier tunes like “La Bahia,” and my favorite – following Ash’s vocal melody right at the part in “Stumble and Fall” where she sings “how could I be so dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb, da dumb dumb dumb, dumb dumb.”
Simple little things like that, all taken together, put Ash’s songs over. And they work especially well given that her songs are, themselves, quite concise. Sometimes they’re perfect pop constructions, like on “Francais,” and the title track. Other times they’re jazzy detours, like on “Red Airlight” and “La Bahia.” Or they might dispense with pop songcraft altogether, which is how “Red Border Bars” ends the album – it’s little more than two chords and a steady pile-up of effects, gradually building to a low-fi crescendo.
These are but some of the delights that comprise the fourteen songs of Ash Reiter’s Paper Diamonds, an album which currently is only available for purchase at the merch table you’ll find at Ash’s live appearances.
If you’re on the west coast, you’re at least close to hearing for yourself the singer/songwriter I have been calling my favorite new artist of 2010. As for the rest of the world, you’d do well to drop Ash a note at her MySpace profile. Get to know her, and get to know her music. It’s all too easy to “stumble and fall” for what you’re about to hear. And if you fall as hard as I did, you’ll also want to get your hands on the earlier, more stripped down version of Paper Diamonds she pressed up last year. It’ll make for a fun study of contrasts.
But study comes later. First, immerse.
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