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Annie Dressner - Strangers Who Knew Each Other’s Names (Album Review)

Friday, 07 December 2012 Written by David Ball

The female singer songwriter space is a pretty difficult one to break into these days. With a wealth of options available from established names such as Laura Marling and Ellie Goulding to the well hyped up and comers like Ren Harvieu finding your own niche in a crowded genre is a real challenge. With her debut album ‘Strangers Who Knew Each Other’s Names’ that’s exactly what US transplant Annie Dressner is trying, and mostly succeeding to do.

ImageHaving moved to the UK from her hometown of New York City recently, Dressner’s first full length recording backs up summer performances at the likes of Cambridge Folk Festival and Secret Garden Party which will give you some clues as to how it sounds. Strong on lyrical content and subtle in arrangement it’s a very easy album to listen to from the very first spin but the more time you commit the more you find beneath the gently flowing surface.

Album opener ‘Fly’ is a welcoming introduction to Dressner’s pleasantly unique voice and immediately brings forth her autobiographical style of writing as it sounds like someone delicately singing a diary entry about their hopes and fears. It’s uplifting melody and sense of hope run smoothly into ‘September’, a slightly more laid back but similarly cheerful love song with a slight country twinge to it. Elsewhere ‘Cigarette’ is a smartly written lament about young love and contains the wonderful ‘I smoke a cigarette so I can taste you in my breath’ line.

The content covers familiar ground with a focus on love gained and lost with the combination of Dressner’s poignant writing, lilting vocal and sympathetic production creating an instantly familiar feeling which is most in evidence on the title track. Her vocal sound is difficult to label, in places delicate and subtle, others haunting but powerful and during the first few lines of ‘Come Back’ a Winehouse-esque smoky blues feel. Nevertheless its quality is consistent throughout while the regular use of double tracking adds depth and colour.

There are some faults here, most noticeably the sense that the run of 6 ballads through the centre of the album could have done with being broken up, a feeling brought further to the surface when the violin led, jaunty folk bounce of ‘Hardy Boys’ is followed immediately by the rock drums and quicker paced ‘Find Me’, shifting one of these forward a few tracks would’ve made the album feel a bit more coherent. I also found ‘With You’ one ballad too many and a bit too sickly sweet for my tastes, it’s the one forgettable moment of an otherwise impressive record.

Towards the end of the album is where my personal highlights reside. ‘Brooklyn’ brings in a piano backing to the ever present acoustic guitar which adds a rich extra dimension and album closer ‘How Am I Supposed To Be?’ is the barest track of all with Dressner’s beautifully delicate vocal complemented by a double tracked chorus and hushed acoustic picking. It’s also the finest moment of a very well written group of songs which is so personal in its description of the sense of loss it feels voyeuristic to listen. When she sings ‘I’ll look for you in me’ you can almost hear her heart gently breaking. As a closing track it does exactly what it should and leaves you wanting to hear more.

‘Strangers Who Knew Each Other’s Names’ isn’t the type of ground breaking debut which will have people falling over themselves for, mainly because it doesn’t contain the type of radio friendly hit needed to enter the mainstream although there’s a clear eye for a catchy melody here. As a marker laid down for the future however this is a very accomplished piece of work which shows plenty of promise from a clearly talented songwriter. A new EP which is already being worked on and expected in 2013 is unquestionably something to keep a look out for based on this evidence.

Annie Dressner will be playing a variety of shows across the UK next year, a full list can be found on her website www.anniedressner.com

‘Strangers Who Knew Each Other’s Names’ is out now.

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