purchase this album (Amazon)
The current boomlet of female singer-songwriters hasn’t yet spawned a Lilith Fair revival, but you can just feel one coming when a label like Jive throws its weight behind a folk-pop ingÃ©nue like Amie Miriello.
Actually, Jive has been behind her for awhile; she and her songwriting/performing partner, guitarist Jay Dmuchowski, threw together the band Dirtie Blonde after signing with the label in 2005, and scored a minor hit with the poppy but personality-free “Walk Over Me.” Since then Miriello has jettisoned the band and allowed Jive to use her as a guinea pig in the launch of its BellaSonic subsidiary, which seems intent on marketing her in a Colbie Caillat/Sara Bareilles mode.
And why not? Miriello exhibits plenty of promise on her solo debut, I Came Around, even if the album’s charms are a bit scattershot. The songwriting is relentlessly catchy (Miriello has at least a hand in every tune, assisted by Dmuchowski and numerous others), and its folk and blues influences occasionally manage to bubble up out of the major-label production gloss. The acoustic musicianship is impressive, too – and apparently is very impressive during her live gigs, which feature more of a laid-back, low-fi vibe than she displays here.
The only trouble is, I’m pretty sure Miriello is schizophrenic – or at least her voice is. (Come on, folks – I had to say something to avoid the standard clichÃ©s, like “she wears her influences on her sleeve” or “she hasn’t found her voice yet.”) Miriello has a strong, bluesy voice in there somewhere, but on songs like “Pictures” and “Brand New” she meanders from one affectation into another in what finally sounds like a desperate attempt to connect by reminding listeners of someone else. A little Alanis here, a little Tori there, a touch of Joni on “Who You Really Are” and the lovely piano ballad “Snow” – it doesn’t end there, but you get the idea.
That’s the bad news. The good news is, Miriello doesn’t need to do all that, because her songs sell themselves without all the distracting vocal acrobatics. The title track (and first single), for example, matches a regret-tinged lyric with propulsive guitars, sounding like an early track from the wonderful Sarah Harmer.
Meanwhile, “Grey” and “Coldfront” have tremendous pop hooks. (I’ve chosen not to hold it against the latter song that it received a polishing from new American Idol judge and songwriter-to-the-starlets Kara DioGuardi – are there five pop albums released this decade that don’t feature a Kara credit?)
This being a major-label solo debut, Miriello and Jive have conspired (it’s unclear – did she jump or was she pushed?) to introduce her with an acoustic alt-rock cover, offered free on her website. In her case it’s Smashing Pumpkins’ “Disarm,” which Miriello pulls off gracefully but to which she adds precious little. When will major (and minor) labels finally learn how to market singer-songwriters on their own merits, and allow us to awaken from the nightmare of the stripped-down cover version?
Based on this somewhat premature solo emergence, it’s natural to wish that Miriello had taken a slower, more Brandi Carlile/Shawn Colvin-esque path to the majors. I Came Around is enjoyable on its own, too-derivative terms, but I look forward to Miriello’s next album. Hopefully by then she’ll decide on a voice, because once she settles in she might well build a career on par with her influences.
It may not be a career that a sales-driven major like Jive/Zomba can sustain; still – if the BellaSonic imprint survives, and shows some patience for an artist who might need time to build an audience – the label just might learn to trust its A&R instincts and let the real Miriello emerge.
That Miriello won’t need an alt-rock cover. She also won’t need to (sorry) wear her influences so prominently on her sleeve. And she won’t need her label to advertise her … ahem … assets so prominently on her CD sleeve, either.