Lisbeth Scotts third disc, Dove, opens with an ambient keyboard wash, over which Scott dramatically recites a love poem. The strong erotic undercurrent in the poem is reinforced by a slight rasp in Scotts voice when she recites, "I am hit with a scent of you and a fire boils in my gut." The next song, "Beg," also opens with an electronic keyboard and sounds a little too much like Enya.
After these inauspicious beginnings, the next tune caught me by surprise. The throbbing sound of a sitar opens "Push the River" (no sitar in the credits, so it must be a keyboard), joined after a few seconds by a beautiful acoustic-guitar arpeggio, eastern percussion, and understated strings playing a Middle Eastern scale. Scott begins to sing:
"Push the River" presents us with Doves strengths as well as its weaknesses. Scotts songs are melodic, well constructed and painstakingly arranged. Shes a singularly gifted lyricist whose imagery connects because she avoids cliches and uses vivid metaphors to describe the highs and lows of romantic love. Her vocal range is vast. She can jump an octave with no sign of effort -- and thats part of the problem. Scott is afflicted with the strain of anguished divatude that has infected all too many current singers. In the final line above, she spins the word "free" out for a few extra beats and throws in a long "a" in the middle, so it ends up sounding something like "fray-ay-eee."
This oversouling, as Jerry Wexler calls it, is especially disappointing in Scott because her songs have so much emotional content they dont need the embellishment. Her melodies might haunt you, but playing the songs themselves frequently reveals some distracting vocal trick that ultimately irritates rather than ingratiates.
The disc is full of powerful writing. Scott probably throws away stuff other writers would love to claim. On some tunes, such as "Train" and "Crucial" she doesnt let her vocal technique get out of control and the song and the lyric carry the story. She sings "Crucial" with conviction -- with real power, in fact -- but she pulls back and expresses honest emotion without affectation.
Scott produced the disc and distributes it on her own label. Peter Cobbin, who had a hand in the remixing of the Yellow Submarine songtrack, mixed about half the tracks on Dove at Abbey Road studios, and the remaining tracks were mixed in California studios by Steve Krause or Alan Myerson. The acoustic instruments have a clean, resonant sound and the electronic keyboards and effects create depth and richness in the soundstage. There are quite a few sonic details that make Dove a good workout disc for your stereo. For example, theres a close-miked, low-toned drum in "Push the River" that causes a visceral rumble as it travels through your woofers.
The arrangements on Dove are consistently intelligent and tasteful. Scott knows where to place small touches -- a swelling keyboard or a sound effect -- so they add color to a track without calling too much attention to themselves. Her songwriting is varied and she uses musicians who bring the right feel to each song. Her own piano and guitar playing are also very good.
In many ways, I find that my reactions to Dove are mixed (as you can probably tell). Many of the songs are very good, the disc is well-recorded, and the playing is often inspired. I just wish Scott had pulled back on the vocals more. The restraint and taste she shows as an arranger would do wonders for her singing. As I write this closing paragraph, Im listening to a hidden track that closes the disc. According to Scotts website, its called "I Fall," and its just Scott singing, accompanying herself on piano. She sings into the upper reaches of her range, naturally and without force. Its beautiful -- simple and beautiful.
Too bad everything she does on Dove can't match that level of ungimmicky artistry.
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