Tracy Shedd – Red

Purveyors of sophisticated, lyrical pop music have seemed more successful in breaking free of the coffeehouse-and-beret image given us in previous decades. Maybe part of the reason for that success is, ironically, that the popularity of that kind of pop has waned. I mean, do you see how much dust has collected on your Sundays CDs? To the great benefit of all of us, however, this doesn’t mean that no one is making sweet, airy pop records that are free of hard-edged angst but still offer plenty of brow-furrowed introspection.
Aimee Mann and Death Cab for Cutie, among others, have staked out the territory of the straight-faced, resigned look at the bitter realities of love and post-love. Evan Dando (post-rehab) and his sometime collaborator Juliana Hatfield take on the same concerns, though with a more youthful petulance in their tone. I think that Tracy Shedd, on Red, her second release, is aiming for a spot somewhere between the two. Her band has some of Death Cab’s casually sophisticated pop sensibility, and her lyrics are introspective “blog’ entries of narrative.
Shedd sings with some of Hatfield’s ability to disarm using a soft, cracking voice that breathily murmurs her lyrics, with her voice so deep in the mix that it always threatens to be completely overwhelmed by the music. On many songs, such as “Eleven,” this translates as warmth, a sense of a low-lit recording studio with plenty of candles and incense around. The other side of that coin is that Shedd seems often too timid in her delivery, as though she’s unsure of herself. Many songs feel as though they could have been sung more confidently, trading the green tea with lemon for a stiff shot of espresso.
It’s easy to be reductive about this brand of pop songwriting, but Shedd avoids the pitfalls of sounding like either a sad sack or a narcissist as she traverses her songs’ tricky emotional terrain. Only, it takes a few listens to realize this. The songs drift out of the speakers so gently that at first they just drift right by you. Shedd’s vocal style is so nondescript that it takes the subtle, clever work of the rhythm section to buttonhole you if you’re listening close enough. To be fair, though, all of the artists I mentioned earlier, especially Death Cab, often have this same dynamic (I won’t call it a “problem”). If Tracy Shedd can find a way to make her lovely voice more of an instrument in the talented ensemble that she’s assembled, then she’ll be well on her way to becoming a kind of female Josh Ritter, which would be a great achievement indeed.