BASIA BULAT – Heart of My Own (2010)

Back in 2007, Basia Bulat released her first album, Oh, My Darling; it was an uneven record, with a few great songs on it (Snakes and Ladders, In The Night, the latter of which was mysteriously absent on the US version of the album – a shame, given it was easily the best song on the record), and a lot of other songs that simply weren’t all that memorable. I think the biggest thing I took away from Oh, My Darling was that favoring one instrument usually relegated to the sidelines in this type of music (read: the autoharp) does not, on its own, a good album make – you’ve got to use that instrument in songs that stand out, in order for the focus to mean anything. And that was Oh, My Darling’s greatest flaw: it seemed more concerned with fitting in than standing out.

The same can be said for Heart of My Own, although this album does increase the great-song-to-mediocre-song ratio a bit. Still, it’s hardly an improvement in the grand scheme of things; perhaps the best way I can describe the album is as a refinement of generalities. It starts well enough with Go On, a cloudy-sky folk portrait with a lush instrumentation that doesn’t stay in one place for very long. Unfortunately, Go On is the album’s high point. The other two noteworthy songs here don’t reach the same echelon. Gold Rush, operates on the same basic wavelength as Go On, although the mood here is brighter. And the album closer, If It Rains introduces gospel into Bulat’s mix, with moderate success; it can’t rival, say, Nick Cave’s O Children, but it does send the album off on a positive note. There. All done. You may have noticed I declined to describe the other songs on the album. That’s because there’s not a whole to say about them. They’re all songs we’ve heard before – they’re songs that are troubling in their familiarity, and aren’t really worth deconstructing.

Again, like its predecessor, Heart of My Own isn’t terrible, but it doesn’t have much of an identity; Laura Veirs’ latest album runs circles around it. This isn’t to say that Basia Bulat is incapable of releasing an album that’ll break out of the quagmire of low-tier singer/songwriter folks – quite the contrary, actually. She’s got a wonderfully expressive voice, and a definite ear for melody (albeit a scattershot one). But these songs don’t do much to showcase her talent; they restrain her more than they emphasize her. Perhaps her next album will push the envelope a bit more. For my part, I’ll definitely be willing to take a risk to see if it does.

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