Marian Call – Something Fierce
2011, Marian Call
2011, Marian Call
When we first received Marian Call’s 2007 debut album, Vanilla, in the mail three years ago we knew we were hearing something special. The Alaskan transplant evoked thoughts of Joni Mitchell, Jewel and Nellie McKay with crisp songwriting, honest lyrics and a voice that lights up the night like a beacon. Even in the commissioned project, Got To Fly, Call showed an evocate and quirky personality with sweetly geeky tendencies and an impressive songwriter’s command, but nothing Call has done before can amply prepare you for Something Fierce. Call’s third album, a 19-song, 2-disc effort, shows a transformation from the burgeoning singer/songwriter of 2007 to a master of her craft. The leap forward in presence, command of her material and pure creative magic is absolutely stunning.
Something Fierce is broken into two distinct albums. Volume I: Good Luck With That and Volume II: from Alaska show two disparate yet interwoven sides of Call. Volume I shows the emergence of a confident, mature and appealing songwriter; while Volume II is an introspective and personal affair. Each volume is a complete work in and of itself, but together they create a picture of the artist as person that is indelible. Marian Call opens Volume I with “Good Morning Moon”, a wonderfully catchy number full of distinct pop sensibility. Call’s imagery here is simple and appealing, yet deep in meaning; the song flows like water and is a marketer’s dream without sounding anything like the pop music you’re likely to hear on the radio. “The Avocado Song” displays Call’s funky, bluesy, soulful side and shows a confidence and presence that has grown by leaps and bounds over the last four years. “Dear Mr. Darcy” is a funky folk/rock song of unrequited love. Call inhabits your head space on numbers such as this, making a deep impression with both her voice and pure presence.
Pedal steel accents prove a perfect counter-point to Call’s voice in “All New (Heart Shut Tight)”, a gorgeous confessional about the conflict of wanting to fall in love but not being able to let go and let it happen. “Free Bird” has a jazzy feel, and Call dazzles with the range and tone of her voice over a stark, pizzicato guitar. This is a WOW moment, the first of many. Call doesn’t make you wait long for the next one, either, launching right into “Temporal Dominos” and unleashing the full power of her voice. The prog/folk arrangement is ingenious and the run-on style melody becomes analogous with the stream-of-conscious lyrics, making both seem entirely natural. Call pulls back for “Highway Five”, a Joni Mitchell-esque love song written to the coast that bore and sustains her. The deeply personal ballad/soliloquy features just Call’s voice and guitar, and speaks to longing for home that never leaves the heart, no matter how far away home might be. “Press Or Say Three (Your Call Is Important To Us” is a solid album track that paves the way for Volume I closing track “Ina Flew The Coop”. This one has been kicking around Call’s live set for some time; a song about moving on and the mix of new-found freedom and captivity that follows in the wake of a relationship. The story is told in third person with a gentle mix of envy and fear; an amazing observation that has a vaguely autobiographical feel.
Volume II opens with “Whistle While You Wait”, a personal exploration of confidence, reticence, and making the most of each moment. Call’s mix of intellect and heart hear is stunning, moving beyond singer/songwriter pastiche into the realm of pure art. It becomes difficult to imagine the singer separated from the song, or vice versa. “Early Is As Early Does” looks at life as a journey or series of side trips, deeply shaded by an intellect that spends much time in self-conversation on such subjects. This is among the most intriguing works on the set, showing Call reaching for an ever-higher level in mind, heart and song. Such depth deserves a lighter turn, and Call doesn’t disappoint. “I Wish I Were A Real Alaskan Girl” is an ode to the hearty women born of the 49th state that pokes gentle fun while offering respect for those who live close to a hard land. This song could go either way, depending on the listener, but Call weaves an entertaining and humorous narrative you won’t soon forget.
“The Underground (One Bird At A Time)” explores the anachronism of losing your senses in a state of perpetual light. It’s a gorgeous turn that makes the most of the colors of Call’s voice, and the sense of dislocation that comes from living in a land where (albeit temporarily) the sun never goes down. “Coffee By Numbers (Faon’s Song)” is a jazzy piano-driven number about personal collections and taking the time to nurture them. Coffee is the focal point of the song, but it’s Call’s voice that carries the connection. “Equinox” is a personal soliloquy on turn the page. Hope for the future and hesitation mix in intriguing fashion in a darkly, lovely tune that will leave an impression. “E.S.B.” is most memorable for Call’s voice. You simply have to listen to this one for yourself.
“Perilous Road” uses personifies the human experience of putting yourself out there for the world to see as a difficult drive. The image of cliffs and blind turns brings to mind the concepts of faith and self-confidence, darkening the sky with doubts that seek to blot out the light of hope. Despite the seemingly simple message, there are many layers here that will reveal themselves over successive listens. “Aurora Borealis” features a simple, roiling beauty in a guitar-driven arrangement that swells and fades like deep water. Call’s vocal performance is nothing less than entrancing. Volume II concludes with “Anchorage”, a gorgeous quasi-duet between Call and cello. The song has a quiet center, and Call fills it up with her heart and her voice.
There is a power in simplicity. Marian Call harnesses that power and burnishes it with heart, honesty and deep intellect on Something Fierce. Call’s presence grows by leaps and bounds on Volume I, displaying a persona that’s fun, powerful and eminently real. Volume II encompasses more of Call’s inner dialogues; delving into mature insecurities born of past failures, new successes and a hope that one of these times will be different. The compositions and arrangements on Something Fierce are absolutely stellar; Call seems to have a knack for marrying the perfect lyrics to the perfect melodies, and encompassing them in arrangements that fit like gloves. The usual superlatives don’t seem to apply here, but it’s fair to say that when the year-end lists come around, the smart money is going to be on Something Fierce being highly placed. Marian Call has created a masterpiece. Something Fierce is nothing less than a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc.
Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)