Tuesday, May 23, 2006

"While the 1970s were a fertile time for the singer-songwriters who inspired Branch - like Joni Mitchell and Cat Stevens - she said country is more open to the style today than pop.

'It's too hard for a singer-songwriter to break into pop music, especially for a new artist. You get half a second to even make an attempt,' she said."

That's taken from an AP piece on the seeming preponderance of pop and rock stars crossing over to the country charts of late; the Branch quoted is, in fact, Michelle Branch. Her kinda-new duo the Wreckers releases their debut album Stand Still, Look Pretty today, and I hope it can live up to its great first single, "Leave the Pieces" (honestly, helped by Branch not taking the lead on this one). (Full disclosure blah blah blah: I'll be reviewing it for Stylus.)

Branch makes a very accurate point about the current pop - and country - climate for singer-songwriters, however. Though I'd limit her comments to women; it seems that labels can't sign up those male singer-songwriter dorks fast enough (from Jack Johnson - ick - to Teddy Geiger - ick). Perhaps Miranda Lambert wouldn't have gotten signed by a major label were it not for the exposure she received on Nashville Star, but I'd like to think that's not the case. While I've yet to fall under her spell, she's clearly got quite a bit of talent, including her skills as a songwriter. Her road, of course (?), was paved by Gretchen Wilson, who deserves the credit for a number of the current spate of female signer-songwriters getting Nashville deals. She proved with Here For the Party that women (country radio's chief demographic is women 25-49) want to hear women singing about their own, relatable, experiences. (Perhaps not so much with All Jacked Up; I'm still a bit befuddled as to why her soph album seems to be such a commercial disappointment compared to its predecessor.)

The move Branch is making - from huge pop hits such as "Everywhere" and her Santana smash "The Game of Love" (and, to a lesser extent, "I'm Not Feeling You," interestingly credited to Santana featuring Michelle Branch and the Wreckers) to being a country rookie - is a potentially fascinating one. I'm not so crass as to think she's doing it for the cash; in country these days, you've gotta come with the goods, and a pop pedigree can more often than not be a hindrance instead of an assist. Her heart appears to be in it, though I fear her label (still Maddy's former vanity project Maverick) is gonna water down the twang on Stand Still. We shall see. But points to her for trying something different and crossing over in the opposite direction, a la Olivia Newton-John.

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