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Romance With Words

I enthusiastically recommend Paula Held’s debut album, DRIVE, because it’s a love album. By that, I don’t mean that all the songs are about human love, though most are. Rather, it is an album by someone who has had a longstanding romance with words and music and who retains a … fidelity to the integrity of emotion that a song should convey.

The songs on DRIVE transport the listener. The title cut feels … like a lazy Sunday afternoon drive along country back roads. You can almost hear the Texas Panhandle wind in “Tumbleweed Heart.” Especially interesting to me are melodies and progressions in songs like “Watermelon Moon Eyes” and “Moon’s Too Bright.” These are some of the most subdued songs on the album, but here, surprisingly, Paula takes the greatest chances … continually surprising the ear with where she takes her melodies and progressions. Even as the listener is lulled by the ‘softness’ of these songs, he or she is continually kept off balance … the sum effect is a sort of dreamy drunkenness: just the sort of spell one might expect from a high-summer moon. I won’t try to dissect every song on the album but simply say that, for me at least, all these cuts have a powerful emotive quality. Transport. That’s the operative word, and I suppose this is a very well named album.

I should add that Stephen Doster’s arrangements and production seem pretty much right on target here, always interesting but never heavy handed, and thus one of Paula’s greatest strengths, the kind of plaintive innocence of her voice, is never swallowed up by accompaniment.

To conclude, if you are looking for something that sounds like something you already know, this probably isn’t the album for you. Though you’ll catch whiffs of Cheryl [Crow] and Rickie Lee and some classic tin pan alley, ultimately, this is a wonderfully unique creation … And Paula Held, if you’ll pardon the pun, can certainly hold her own with those better known names. Take DRIVE out for a test spin. I think you’ll find the experience addictive. I sure did.