For me, working in the radio industry has its hazards, and one is being bombarded with music from artists who are clearly more product than performer. In early 2001, coming off a trend of carefully constructed boy bands and Barbie doll girl singers (some of whom really couldn’t sing), hearing the guitar driven ”Everywhere” from Michelle Branch blaring out of the radio was a breath of fresh air. Knowing that she played guitar, wrote (or co-wrote) her own songs, and had a voice that was unique — well, until Vanessa Carlton came along a year later — signaled to me that the music industry was finally promoting singer/songwriters who weren’t all glossed and glammed up. Add to that the fact that her songs reflected the perspective of lovelorn teenage girls really did a tremendous amount to fill an emotional niche for millions of young girls. The Spirit Room went platinum after its release, and by the time Hotel Paper was released in 2003, she continued to ride a wave of success by continuing to write about the things that matter to young girls.
She got married, got pregnant, and almost quit the music biz over having to sing ”I’m Feeling You“ on Santana’s All That I Am album and being sent on what she said was a ”lame ass” tour by her label to promote an album no one knew (The Wreckers’ Stand Still, Look Pretty). Plus her fans were ragging on her on her message board, and she kind of had enough. She pulled the plug on her website, toured with the Wreckers, released a live album and then announced that the group she had formed with Jessica Harp was on hiatus.
Meanwhile both she and Harp went their separate ways and recorded songs for solo albums. Harp released her album in 2009, and then announced she was retiring as a recording artist, but Branch soldiered on recording enough music for a full length album called Everything Comes and Goes. The album has been in limbo for about two years now, but Branch was able to convince her label (Warner Bros. Nashville) to release an EP to coincide with a tour she’s doing with Sugarland. She’s been selling physical copies on tour (and some rabid fans were paying up to $30 for the CD on eBay), and now the album is available through her website as a digital download.
So, after all this build up, what’s the EP like? Overall, it’s a mixed bag of songs that are weighted toward ballads and mid-tempo numbers. The opening track, ”Ready to Let You Go” is a real shit-kicker country track about a break up with the protagonist both seething with anger and stating she’s ready to move on. Musically, the song has some wonderfully layered guitar work, and is probably a real crowd pleaser when performed live. ”Sooner or Later” (the first single off the EP) is barely a country song — save perhaps the lap steel guitar and banjo weaved into the mix. Take those elements out, and ”Sooner or Later” is Michelle Branch circa 2002. It’s a catchy song with plenty of hooks, and lyrically it centers on one of Branch’s favorite subjects: the guy who doesn’t know what a great thing he has in front of him.
Alas, what ultimately sinks the EP for me is the fact that the majority of songs are either ballads or mid-tempo songs. Also, the subject matter really doesn’t change. Most of the songs (except for ”Crazy Ride”) are about lost loves, break ups, or preventing break ups. All this heartache and woe from a woman who has been in a committed relationship for the past six years! But as many teachers of writing counsel their students: write what you know. And it seems that Branch — at some point in her life — was really emotionally wounded by a break up, a deep crush, or just from being a wallflower. It’s difficult to know, but it’s certainly a deep well from which she draws her inspiration. Unfortunately, that kind of sadness really drags the EP down. Sure, there are some who really love those types of songs and enjoy wallowing in the pain Branch writes about. But even for an EP it’s too much — even though the first two songs on the EP counterbalance the heaviness of the other four.
Branch plans on releasing a full album at a later date, and I just hope that the full album is a better mix of songs that strike a more balanced range of musical and lyrical content.
For now, she’s streaming the album off her website, and if you’d like to hear the whole thing, the widget below will satisfy your curiosity.