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Review: Cara Jean Wahlers, "Goodnight Charlotte"

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A stunningly beautiful set of quiet-yet-engaging songs...
  • A stunningly beautiful set of quiet-yet-engaging songs...
After singer/songwriter Cara Jean Wahlers saw cellist Grover Parido perform with Blueprint Music a few years ago, she talked to him about working together. It led to the duo's collaboration on Goodnight Charlotte, Wahler's new 12-song collection, featuring her vocals and guitar, and Parido's cello, piano and bass.

It's a stunningly beautiful set of quiet-yet-engaging songs anchored by Wahler's in-you-ear vocals and Parido's achingly gorgeous sound. Whether his contribution is part of the background, or a solo that creeps from the background and engulfs the listener, his playing is pointed and pretty, soulful and satisfying.

The album is music for your head and your heart. Think "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" for the 2010's.

The opening song, "Chinatown," reveals the gifts both players bring. Wahlers is a cinematic writer who builds scenes in songs that a listener's mind can see. Rain on a face. Trinkets in a pocket. Throughout, Parido adds weight to chord changes, and slides forward when warranted.

Wahlers best moments come when she drops details on the listener.

On "Orange Blossom", she sings how "pine needles sting my bare feet."

On "California", she compares a love to AM radio, both "barely able to stay in tune".

On "Mark's On The Earth", she sings: "I am tired of trying to prove that I am beautiful, burning for you. I am tired of trying to prove that I am good enough - broken hearts can burn too"

Wahlers works inside a pleasing Joni Mitchell/Ricki Lee Jones/Emmylou Harris template - more West coast than rural - though a hint of Indiana in her voice helps anchor a sound more organic than shiny. Parido's piano visits regularly and then backs off. There's space in the album's soundscape for instruments to appear and then recede - a sympathetic mix that provides room for voice, piano, cello and Wahler's anchoring guitar work.

"Black Dog, "about falling in love with Steven and his dog, may be the best song on the album. And yes, Wahlers references the Led Zeppelin song near the end of her tune, supported by Parido's Zep-like lines.

Not sure if anyone will make a smarter, lovelier record in 2010. Wahlers and Parido have created an intelligent and gentle record, hearfelt and soulful in it's quiet beauty.

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