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Little Steps

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Album Review

Although Merrie Amsterburg has been working as a solo act for some time, you can still tell that she had an earlier career as a band singer because she has developed a mannered singing style that finds her purring and murmuring, rounding her syllables, and slurring in a breathy tone, a style designed to draw attention to itself in competition with a rock band. You can't avoid the comparisons; she sounds like she's listened closely to both Tori Amos' career-long imitation of Kate Bush and Natalie Merchant's career-long imitation of Sandy Denny, taking much of the nasality and throaty moans from the former but singing closer to the register of the latter. The actual timbre of her voice may be nearest to Janis Ian's, but she is also capable of suggesting Rickie Lee Jones, notably on "State Highway 16," which will remind many listeners of Jones' "The Last Chance Texaco." All of this is to suggest that, in the modest folk-rock arrangements of her second album, Little Steps, with not much more to compete with than rhythms that seem to derive from inexpensive synthesizer settings and various restrained guitars, many of which she plays herself, Amsterburg overwhelms the songs with her vocal stylization. It's the sound of her voice that you take away from a listening to this album, much more than an appreciation of the material, even though she has a way with melody and writes touching, poetic lyrics about romantic desire. The record is often attractive, but it is unbalanced; either Amsterburg should get a record contract that allows her to make a better-produced album to support her highly ornamental style of singing, or tone down the affectations and serve her songs better by singing them more directly.


Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s

Boston singer/songwriter Merrie Amsterburg began her musical career as the singer and guitarist for the late-'80s early-'90s band the Natives, who were nearly signed by KISS' Gene Simmons, and recorded tracks with Blondie producer Richard Gottehrer. Unfortunately, both projects were unsuccessful -- Simmons' label wasn't ready in time to offer the band a good distribution deal, and the Gottehrer sessions were never released; soon after, the band broke up. Amsterburg's frustrated career as a rock &...
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Little Steps, Merrie Amsterburg
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