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Monday, June 13, 2011

Red Abbey - Bulldozer

Red Abbey - Bulldozer
2011, Red Abbey

Red Abbey started out as a New York City Duo, but has expanded their influence to Las Vegas in the last couple of years.  Thien-nga Palmer and Trey Ordaz have built a singular blues/rock sound from guitar and violin.  Red Abbey first came to our attention in March of 2010 with their debut EP, On My Way.  The duo returns this year with an updated sound in the form of Bulldozer.  Produced by Ken Hertz (Beyoncé, Michael Jackson, Missy Elliot), Bulldozer takes a band with a viable sound and tries to turn it into a commercial enterprise.

Bulldozer opens with the title track, a muscular alt-rock number that marks a new intensity of sound for Red Abbey.  Thien-nga Palmer flashes her unusual, sultry voice, which comes across as a mix of Joan Jett, Chrissie Hynde and Mick Jagger.  Palmer shines on the verses, but the chorus does her no favors.  Red Abbey gets points for attitude and flash in spite of the sonic uncertainties here.  "Life's Avenues" plays like a cynical attempt to craft airplay out of a mix of alternative rock and 1980's hair metal.  The arrangement is catchy, but Palmer's vocal here is more about effect and sound than melody.  "One Way Ticket" starts out with a time-worn rock riff, turning into a funky rocker with blues in its genes.  Unfortunately the transition to a breakneck chorus is jarring and gives up the ghost on any melodic sensibility.

"Broken Heart" shows distinct improvement.  The first of three holdovers from the band's On My Way EP has great pop sensibility and allows Palmer to use her voice for singing rather than trying to craft sounds. Red Abbey spruced up the arrangement a bit but left the song essentially unchanged.  "Me", also from On My Way, is an energetic rocker that will have you dance and jumping around.  This anthem for self-sufficiency is the catchiest song on the album, and the most likely on the album to challenge for airplay.  "Over And Done" is vibrant, guitar-oriented rock with a driving beat.  The chorus fails to keep up with the energy and sound of the verses, with Palmer slipping into a stylistic sound again that sells her voice short.

The other carry-over from On My Way, "What Can I Say", is funky rocker that doesn't live up to the original.  "Breakout" goes for more of a punk aesthetic.  Palmer handles the sound well enough but is capable of much more vocally.  It's a solid active rock number that's all about attitude and edge.  "Pleasure Pain" is the epitome of the stylistic choices that seem to form the backbone of Bulldozer, and it is the least listenable song on the disc.  Red Abbey closes with the bluesy "Beat", and Thien-nga Palmer brings the sultry back with her best performance on the album.  Unfortunately it took ten songs to get here.

Red Abbey's debut EP set the bar high for the band as a whole, and a vocalist, in Thien-nga Palmer, who can hold her own on most any stage, anywhere.  Bulldozer would be a solid effort for a whole host of Indie rock acts, but falls far short of Red Abbey's capabilities.  The search for a more muscular sound isn't necessarily a bad idea, but Palmer tries to accomplish with affectation that which she can flat out do with her voice.  The former restricts the latter and the end result is a performance that is simply less than.  There are definitely some things to like about Bulldozer underneath the shellac of radio-ready sound.  Hopefully Red Abbey will get back to their base sound and build it up naturally the next time around.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Red Abbey at or   Bulldozer is available digitally from and iTunes.  CDs are available through Red Abbey's webstore.

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