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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Malea McGuinness - Close As Air

Malea McGuinness - Close As Air
2009, Malea Music

Malea McGuinness was born to sing.  Growing up on Long Island she was well within the siren call of Broadway and all of its promise.  McGuinness dreamed of making good on that promise from a young age, singing in the backyard out of ear shot of her grandparents.  Working her way through programs at Tanglewood, Oberlin Conservatory and Chautauqua Institution, McGuinness went on to study opera at the Manhattan School of Music.  Before long she’d landed a featured role in The King And I on Broadway.  McGuinness’ commercial work afforded her the opportunity to sojourn to Los Angeles and remake herself as a singer/songwriter.  Teaching herself guitar and gaining a reputation on the local club circuit, McGuinness has continued to build a fan base at a slow but unstoppable pace.  McGuinness’ latest album, Close As Air, is an apt introduction to her distinctive voice and songwriting skills.

Close As Air opens with "Spinning", a great bit of 1980's-style pop/rock that explores the craziness of a world in motion while looking for a purpose or higher call.  This is a great, high energy way to start an album.  "Time Will Show" shows off McGuinness' warm and sultry voice.  There's a rough edge here that's surprising, and it works very much to her benefit.  "Close As Air" has a distinctive acoustic pop/Americana feel that fits well with the theme of love negating all distance or obstacles between two people.  There's a happy and healthy approach to love respected here, based in a confidence that all will work out in the end. 

"Moving On" is an edgy pop/rock number that works to put the pain of a difficult parental relationship behind her.  There's a powerful dynamic here, as the song is written from a solid emotional platform based on an understanding of reality.  The song is compact musically, written within a short melodic range that makes the most of McGuinness' voice.  "Tonight" is written from the depths of love and devotion, and McGuiness gives it the classic treatment of a balladeer.  The piano-based number would fit well on a Manilow album, but McGuinness' earthy tone and almost bluesy approach gives it a deeper dimension than you might at first expect.  "Stars" is a 1970's or early 1980's pop ballad written for and about children who aren't given the best start in life.  McGuinness conveys love and respect for those whom society sometimes forgets, and points out the injustice and potential in each one.

"Birthday Song" is a country-style celebration of love and its ability to arrive in full force when utterly unexpected.  "Falling" is based on a theme of reassurance, but the arrangement borders on bland in the verses.  McGuinness pulls a mild save on the chorus, which plays to a catchy cadence, but this is, at best, a solid deep album track.  "No More" finds McGuinness venturing back into the low-key country/pop realm for a powerful anthem about standing up for herself with someone who hasn't given her the love and respect she feels she deserves.  This tune shows off McGuinness' voice in its best light.  Close As Air formally closes with "Memories", a relationship retrospective that longs for the old days while knowing they can never be again. For those who stick around after the last track, McGuinness has included a countrified version of "The Water Is Wide".  The arrangement on this is nice, although McGuinness' vocal line doesn't play entirely well at times. 

Malea McGuiness is a professional artist who understands her limits and works effectively within them.  McGuinness' voice, at its best, has wonderfully earthy warmth that can occasionally cross over into sultry territory.  While her range may be somewhat limited, McGuinness sings with enough intensity and personality that you may simply fail to notice what's not there.  The arrangements on Close As Air are solid and enjoyable to listen to, and the total effort on Close As Air is very much worth spending some time with. 

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Malea McGuinness at or As Air is available from as a CD or Download.  The album is also available from iTunes.

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