Elizabeth and the Catapult | Taller Children (Verve Forecast)

cd_elizabeth-catapult.jpgWith welcome relief, Elizabeth and the Catapult defy the temptation to fall into stock traps.







Trends stagnate. Just as the mid- to late-’90s saw a resurgence and eventual glut of demonstrative female singer songwriters, or the way 1994 was the year of third-generation photocopy grunge bands (helloooo, Candlebox), the late ‘00s are dangerously close to an overstock of orchestral backed neo-divas. That’s not to discount the entire archetype, but it does put the pressure on each additional entry in the race to bring something new to the table, to be exceptional or, better yet, do both.

With welcome relief, Elizabeth and the Catapult defy the temptation to fall into stock traps. "Momma’s Boy" wastes no time doing just that, appearing to relish the opportunity to weave subtle traces of Magical Mystery Tour-era Beatles-style guitar and woozy Mellotron into flapper-friendly jazz. The title track brings the poise and incisiveness of Regina Spektor spiked with 1940s-style brass and fueled pop exuberance and, oddly, beats that could’ve come straight out of a Beck song. It’s one of those combinations that has no right working but impresses by doing it anyway. "Right Next to You" is utterly seductive, enveloping you with its cool, loping guitar accompaniment and languid, grinning Sunday-morning pace. The highly capable Catapult are a true asset and an indispensable component of the album’s success: They’re equally adept at crafting pure modern alt-pop in "Race You" or at switching to effortlessly upbeat, concertina colored country rock in "Complimentary Me. "

Taller Children‘s more ornate, elaborate arrangements are wisely broken up by sparse, strong but sensitive Joni Mitchell-style jazz-folk ballads. Elizabeth Ziman drapes her heartbroken voice all over "Apathy" and its bed of gentle, finger-picked acoustic guitar. The effect is basic but vulnerable and massively affecting, full of the quiet soul of early Elton John at his least flamboyant. "Everybody Knows" adeptly keeps things concise and calm, while retaining a pleading vibe in what otherwise could have been an over-the-top, too-long centerpiece. Restraint is the keyword here. "Just in Time" is the kind of piano/vocal closer that less graceful and skilled artists would’ve turned bombastic; instead, Ziman plays it down, allowing the arresting, sorrowful grace in her voice to shine through. It’s her voice that’s the truest star of this show: While there’s an unavoidable trace of Amy Winehouse-style belting, Ziman’s phrasing is far more varied and jazzy. It’s acrobatic yet never showy, and the ideal medium for melodies that cascade with the natural ease of a flame between campfire logs.

Taller Children delivers adventurously jazzed-up pop with no pretentious jazz-snob stuffiness or Norah Jones blandness. It inhabits a middle ground, yet is anything but middle-of-the-road. The album positively brims with restraint, class and honesty, all executed to a T. That precision and joyful professionalism, along with Elizabeth and the Catapult’s willingness and ability to change things up, makes this record one of the best-kept secrets of 2009 to date. A | Mike Rengel

RIYL: Beth Orton; light jazz that isn’t smooth jazz; Regina Spektor time traveling to the 1940s; Joni Mitchell, 1971-76

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