Serena Ryder | If Your Memory Serves You Well (EMI)

cd_serena"Morning Dew" retains much of its easy swagger courtesy of a slick, uptempo swamp-rock arrangement and a throat-rending vocal that finds Ryder channeling Melissa Etheridge with uncanny accuracy in the song's final stretch.

 

 

 

The title of Serena Ryder's major-label debut is nicked from the Rick Danko-Bob Dylan classic "This Wheel's on Fire," one of a dozen songs penned by prominent Canadian songwriters that adorn the disc, which range from poetic dirges (Leonard Cohen's "Sisters of Mercy") to lounge-pop fare (Paul Anka's "It Doesn't Matter Anymore") to breezy Sunday afternoon folk (Sylvia Tyson's "You Were on My Mind"). Ryder's full-bodied, smoke-hewn voice is by far the most powerful implement in her musical toolbox, and the singer-guitarist's natural disposition tilts toward throaty blues workouts and classy piano treatments. It therefore comes as no surprise that Memory soars highest when Ryder puts her full weight into such performances.

"Some of These Days" is a confident jazz vamp that allows Ryder to strut her vocal stuff amid a Latin rhythm punctuated by a Marc Ribot-worthy guitar solo that powerfully evokes Anti-era Tom Waits. In Ryder's capable hands, Paul Anka's "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" is transformed into a surprisingly soulful Ray Charles R&B piano number complete with pleading church organ. "Morning Dew," performed memorably by The Jeff Beck Group in the late 1960s (with a young and still-relevant Rod Stewart on vocals), retains much of its easy swagger courtesy of a slick, uptempo swamp-rock arrangement and a throat-rending vocal that finds Ryder channeling Melissa Etheridge with uncanny accuracy in the song's final stretch.

The album's quieter moments aren't as compelling, but nevertheless remain generally impressive, bar a handful of exceptions. "Sisters of Mercy" employs a weeping accordion and arpeggiated strings that appropriately imbue the performance with both bittersweetness and the redemptive air demanded by Cohen's typically conflicted lyric. "This Wheel's on Fire," on the other hand, suffers out of the gate simply because the song has been covered dozens (if not hundreds) of times already by artists ranging from Guster to Brian Auger and The Trinity, making it difficult for the experienced listener to determine if Ryder's rote interpretation is even worthwhile, let alone grounds for titling a record. Likewise, her decision to close the disc with three of her own breezy compositions is perhaps a questionable one, as her original songs, with lyrics like "I'm in love with you/ Doo doo doo doo/ I think you should love me too," seem like so much thin stew following such a substantial meal cooked up by some of the greatest popular songwriters of the 20th Century.

If Your Memory Serves You Well has all the earmarks of a major-label success story, from the burnish of its spotlessly clean production to the carefully considered presentation of its tracks, but therein lies perhaps its greatest weakness. Ryder is an obvious talent with a Lilith-friendly voice and style, but ultimately there is little to separate her from the rest of the pack. She is an artist worthy of attention, however, and there is ample reason to believe that her best work is years ahead of her. File under "one to watch." B- | Paul John Little

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