It’s not often when we get a second chance to
revise past bad karma and even less often that second chances
lead to pleasant outcomes. Perhaps this review marks one of
those rare occasions in my life. It all started last winter
when, on a cold dreary night, I attended a Faith Kleppinger
live show at The Red Light Café and… well… let’s just say that
my experience -- and
my ensuing review -- were less than favorable. So, Brendan
wisely asked Tracers (not me) to review Kleppinger’s new solo
album, Asleep in the Well. But, as fate would
have it, Tracers took a rather untimely spill, dislocated her
elbow (ouch!), and ended up in a Demerol haze for several weeks.
Writing reviews was not exactly her first priority, so Brendan
reluctantly handed the duty over to me. This circumstance had
all the ingredients of a ruthless rip-job review.
Needless to say, I procrastinated. I put the CD by my stereo
and waited: wondering, worrying, avoiding. But, after a few
cocktails one night, I buoyed myself for the inevitable slaughter…
which didn’t really occur.
Even at a first listen, I found Kleppinger’s CD to be much
more inviting than her live performance, offering a soothing
collection of accomplished melodies and fine guitar work. Away
from the din of tinkling glasses and boisterous conversation
at The Red Light Café, Kleppinger’s subtle, melancholy songwriting
revealed its complexities. Her quiet guitar, often obscured
in live performance mixes, presents itself as sometimes intricate
and sometimes driving, when opened up and preserved in studio
recording. Her style ranges from straight girl-guitar work on
songs like Dare to slow electrified pieces like City
Three (similar at times to Peter Buck on Country Feedback).
One track, Frames, even hints at Lou Reed during the
early Velvet Underground years. She also sprinkles soft piano
here and there to break up and enhance the sound.
Lyrically, Asleep in the Well is more sophisticated
than I remembered from Kleppinger’s live performance. Though
her words are sometimes obscure and vague, Kleppinger includes
interesting observations and turns of phrase within many songs:
“Dare I make mention of Descartes and horses” (from Dare)
or “These dirty cities/ They come in threes” (from City Three).
She certainly has the potential to write songs with meaningful,
thoughtful lyrics inspired by both intellectual pursuits and
urban experience. Only one track, Two Minute Warning,
disappoints in its reversion to a level of neurotic, simplistic
self-loathing that tires easily.
Kleppinger’s lush guitar work is probably the greatest strength
of the album, and its mahogany finish is enhanced by a series
of duets between Kleppinger and Young Antiques vocalist Blake
Rainey, adding further resonance to tracks like Double Negative
and Runaround. Rainey’s voice complements Kleppinger’s
instrumentation well, but unfortunately, the duets also point
out the greatest weakness of the album. While her songwriting
and guitar playing are solid and confident, Kleppinger’s voice
is often tentative, airy, and even flat, indicating a lack of
confidence in her singing. On most songs, she attempts a vocal
gentility -- perhaps an octave too high or a style too esoteric
-- that her voice may not be able to accommodate yet. I am left
hoping that Kleppinger’s future recordings have a harsher edge
where she can explore a stronger, earthier vocal styling.
Still, Asleep in the Well is a fine CD for rainy
urban afternoons while reading a good book, creating a gentle
mood perfect for background listening. Kleppinger’s melodies
and guitar show great promise as a songwriter, and perhaps on
her next release, her singing style will emerge to match those