All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

CD Review: Marian Call - Vanilla

Marian Call - Vanilla
2007, Marian Call

Okay, stop what you're doing and pay attention. It's not often that you get the opportunity to meet an artist like Marian Call, and I want to make note of it so that years from now you can recall where you were when you first heard that name. Hailing from the great northern outposts of Alaska, Marian Call is the export Alaska has been waiting for to top Jewel.

If you're looking for a popular comparison for Marian Call, the closest I can come is Nellie McKay. Marian Call's primary instrument is the acoustic guitar rather than the piano, and she uses irony more than overt anger to get her point across, but her songwriting skills are in the same class. To add to all of this is the voice. Marian Call has a warm voice that sounds equally superior in either alto or soprano ranges. Her sound is unique enough to become iconic in time.

Vanilla is an amazing debut. There is not a weak track go be found on the CD. The music is diverse and dynamic and flows like an album should. Marian Call is very much in control from start to finish. Fret is the opening song, about the guilt the singer feels about not returning feelings in kind to a suitor. The lyrical construction of the song is remarkable, and is typical of the songs on Vanilla. Call has a singular ability to tell stories in her songs that are part stream of consciousness and part careful confessional. The twists and turns of lyric are those you'd expect from an accomplished lyricist, and are surprising and delightful from a newcomer.

The Volvo Song shows the vocal range and dexterity of Marian Call, as well as the complexity she can create riffing on a simple melody line. This is currently my favorite track on the album, but the favorite keeps changing. Flying Feels Like displays Call's willingness and ability to take musical risks with melody choices. The decidedly dark minor-key verses resolve into uplifting major key choruses that betray the singer’s true ambivalence.

Be sure to check out Sunday Afternoon and I'm Yours, the latter of which has "wedding song" written all over it. With the right push from a label, I'm Yours might become the most requested first dance song of the next decade. No kidding.

Stop What You're Doing is the sort of song Sarah McLachlan has been making millions on for years. It doesn't sound like anyone other than Marian McCall, but it made me think of McLachlan, particularly in the chorus. Your Fault is a stark confrontation set to music, and sounds like it might have walked off the soundtrack of some prime-time teen soap opera. Chelsea Morning is a gorgeous closure to Vanilla, and will be running through your head incessantly until you next pop the CD in.

Oh yes, the title track. Vanilla is a tragic-comedy of self-doubt, and is impressive because of how unabashedly honest it is. Fans often think they know an artist from their songs, and usually what you get to know is a caricature that is part the person and part projection. One gets the impression from listening to Marian Call that there is no subterfuge or misdirection in her songwriting. Marian Call can sing openly about herself because of a self-awareness that surpasses her years. Pepper this with the sort of insecurities that we all feel and seldom voice and you have the essence of Vanilla.

Look, there are singer-songwriters, and then there are artists who transcend their genre to become divas, icons, symbols, or whatever label you want to use. This doesn't happen in one album but over the course of time through repeated excellence and reinvention as an artist. There are a mere handful of such artists every generation, and some burn out before they ever get recognized for what they truly are. But if I were a betting man, I would put my money on Marian Call.

Vanilla is a Certified Desert Island Disc, and any other awards or monikers you can think to throw its way. It's the best thing I've heard thus far in 2008, and is one of the three best debut albums I've ever heard. Remember the day and time when you first heard about Marian Call, and get on the bandwagon soon. This star is going to burn bright.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Marian Call at, where you can purchase a copy of Vanilla. You can also pick up Vanilla at Also note that there was a limited edition release of Vanilla with the bonus track It Was Good For You Too. This is sold out, but you may be able to pick up a copy on

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