Why do I like Zee Avi so much? Could it be her novelty? If you’ve listened to her, you know what I mean by that. Avi’s voice is completely unique. And not in a calculated or blatant way. Her sound is a striking mix of Billie Holiday and Norah Jones. The former was known for tailoring her vocals to sound like a horn. Indeed, play some Billie Holiday and walk away from the speaker until the words sound muddled. What you still hear will sound very similar to a trumpet or a sax playing.
Purposefully or not, Avi’s voice shares this characteristic, which may be why the horn accompaniment on her recently released debut album sounds so appropriate. In fact, one of this album’s pillars is the instrumentation used in these songs, my only previous exposure to which were Avi’s minimalist YouTube videos.
The more I listen to Jack Johnson’s Brushfire artists, the more I conclude that ingenious instrumentation is what sets them apart. Somebody (or somebody’s) over in Mango Tree has an impeccable knack for mixing instruments and sounds. I’ve noticed it ever since the Jack’s In Between Dreams. For the record, whoever tweets for Brushfire told me kudos on Avi’s album go to members of Jack’s and Matt Costa’s bands and Ozomatli. Somebody’s calling the shots, though, and I’d like to shake their hand.
Of course the real star on this album is Miss Zee Avi, her songs, and the emotion she conveys in her voice. Avi is one of those artists that make you feel like you know them simply by singing a song. Each of the albums 12 tracks is a musical delight.
I won’t go track by track, but favorites include “Just You and Me,” “Monte,” and “Honey Bee.” If you’re a selective music purchaser like I am, I’d buy these tracks online for a nice introduction. Then, in this case, of course I’d buy the rest.
Noteworthy highlights include the simple guitar melody on “The Story,” a song that is best listened to at night in the mountains, and the horn/vocal duet on “Just You and Me” which illustrates my point about the voice-horn comparison. The rolling “Darling” would sound equally at home on a road trip or in a club.
You might assume, based on my previous doting, that I’d have no complaints about the album. You would be wrong. “Poppy,” Avi’s first original song, and “First of the Gang” are lackluster at best. And “Kantoi” is downright annoying. Mind you, these tracks are fine vocally and musically. They’re just somehow less than the sum of their parts.
I also might have arranged the album differently. Ordering the slow, emotive “Is This the End” right after the bubbly “Just You and Me” takes the air out of things mid-album. “Is This the End” would be better appreciated were it the album closer. A track featuring Jack Johnson in some way would have topped things off very nicely. Here’s hoping that happens on her next album.
These criticisms considered, Miss Avi has me hooked. This album is mature beyond its scope and rich beyond its simplicity. I just ask that after she becomes a mega star, that Avi not forget the little old bloggers like me who had her back from the beginning. Here’s to the beginning of a beautiful career!