Blake Hazard – Little Airplanes

Blake Hazard
Little Airplanes

I picked up Blake Hazard’s first EP after seeing her live about two years ago. It was a guilty pleasure that you weren’t overly embarrassed to be enjoying – fluffy folk-pop that was just far enough off center to avoid any mean Jewel comparisons or cracks. Little Airplanes, her proper full-length debut, keeps walking that line between credible songwriting and tunes that are so dead-on aimed at Clear Channel mix stations that they instantly turn you off. It’s sincere and inoffensive, and I’m sure lots of people will really like it, which is great; it’s just not all that terribly exciting.
For a disc like this to work, the singer/songwriter needs to establish a quirky, powerful personality, like Vic Chestnutt or Cat Power, that rises up above the songs and takes on a force of its own. Others, like Beth Orton or Alison Krauss or Tracey Thorn, have such engaging, honest voices that you’re drawn in on a totally different level. As a listener, you’re always being manipulated by the artist. As you listen to them and grow to trust their skills, you let them take you places. In lesser skilled hands or with artists where there isn’t that trust, their attempts to pull you around just feel cheap. Great artists know how to elicit laughs or tears; it’s part of what makes them great. Their goal, though, is bigger than just getting a reaction; they’re crafting something larger, expressing something deeper. Blake Hazard has the voice and the songwriting skills to elicit the response; the worry is that there’s nothing more meaningful behind what she’s trying to accomplish. The disc feels overly-crafted to make you like it, with what edge there is buffed smooth.
Her lyric style concentrates on subtle changes in words to produce meaning (“I want to be your everything, I want to be your every time, I want to be your everyone,” from “Everybody Knows”) and simple lines that get delivered straight (“Lost for words with so much to say, will your heart make sense of everything?” from “Trust”). When this gets done well, it can produce transcendent moods, which is what she shoots for. She has some lines that work, but her delivery too much of the time feels so measured that much of the potential depth gets flattened out. She tries, though, and that’s worth a lot. Her songs are almost all good thoughts, and I just don’t think you can make a really good album about being happy (though PJ Harvey’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea has some damn fine songs about being giddy in love). As it is, the shadows are what’s interesting and there just aren’t enough of them here. When she says she wants to wish away the things that haunt her every day (“Bedtime”), she doesn’t sound haunted in the least bit. The song is catchy, but it can’t wrap you up.
The really great moments on the disc that stand out – the coda she tacks onto “Converting to the Diver Species,” a nice chord progression in the title track, the self-effacing lyrics in “Strange Love,” the harmonies in “Reservoir” – too often get buried under a kind of self-centeredness that keeps many of the songs from ringing true. The song that comes closest to redeeming the disc is the fine “Saint Sebastien.” It’s one of the few times where she seems to be aware of the world outside of her (“Come walk my street before the crowd takes over, I’ll watch you there in the dark”), and it’s the empathy she conveys, or the illusion of it, that can make a song heartfelt and true. It’s strikingly reminiscent of the piano version of Peter Gabriel’s “Here Comes the Flood” off of his greatest hits disc – no easy feat. She’s walking the line again, but this time she gets it right.
Hazard has an undeniable gift for melodies; several of them will stick in your head whether you like it or not, and some of the tracks will start to grow on you if you give them enough listens. Her skills are in a similar vein to Sarah Harmer’s, who put a fine album out in 2000 called You Were Here. Harmer sounded more capable and confident at making her songs work in a studio setting, and that’s most likely something that comes with time and dedication. Blake Hazard may have it in her as well. She seems to have all the natural ability anyone could ask for and pretty good taste to go with it. Many of her performances on this disc feel reigned in by all the processed sounds around her, though. She should really be letting some cracks show and fronting a band that she can take where she wants to go. Her personality could start to develop into something that can draw you in along with her melodies.