High Priestess

Mel Bryant

Independent release, 2017

http://melbryant.bandcamp.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/19/2017

Led Zeppelin made their name in the late ’60s by juxtaposing thunderous, chord-crunching rockers with airy, pastoral acoustic numbers. This yin/yang dichotomy dazzled a generation of listeners to the point where it’s questionable how many of them noticed that if you closed your eyes, lead vocalist Robert Plant’s throaty wails sometimes sounded more than a little like Janis Joplin.

The Wilson sisters of Heart certainly didn’t overlook that connection, delivering in the second half of the ’70s their own string of Zeppelinesque albums contrasting heavy rock with gentle acoustic ballads. (They’ve since made their inspiration even clearer with repeated live covers of “Rock & Roll” and a magnificent 2012 performance of “Stairway to Heaven” at the Kennedy Center Honors.) Tracing the line down to today, any number of other male and female-fronted bands have trod that same trail of heavy/light juxtaposition, most recently including Kaleo, whose 2016 debut A/B segregates tracks into a side A of roaring hard rock and a side B of mostly acoustic tunes. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The question you’re naturally left with once you head down that familiar trail is, what can you bring us that’s fresh?

Mel Bryant’s debut full-length High Priestess is divided in much the same fashion as A/B, with the heavier material up front in the six-song Part I and the mellower cuts waiting in the second half / Part II. Kickoff cut “Point A Finger” sets the tone, an attitude-filled, bone-crunching blues-rocker with this welcome line: “I got a filthy mouth but at least I ain’t ever been mean” (personally, meanness offends me much more than the occasional swear). “Growing Pains” follows with a strong r&b undercurrent and sassy horns before Bryant goes heavy again for the stripped-down, intense “The Other Side” (“It’s not radical to love / Do you wanna help or do you wanna just be right?”).

The latter half of Part I isn’t quite as strong, with “Down” and the title track both feeling a bit clichéd lyrically, though the musical vibe on each track is strong. In between, Bryant cuts loose vocally on the grinding, deliberate “Cutting Board,” striding right up to the fine line between dramatics and histrionics and dancing right on top of it.

Part II executes an immediate sharp turn as “Get Used To It” presents a gentle pop ballad where Bryant’s vulnerable speak-sung vocals remind of Maria Mena. The next pair (“Ought To Be” and “Like I Love You”) carry on in similar fashion, mellow, mostly acoustic numbers that work well, with Bryant sounding a bit like both Mena and Michelle Branch on the latter.

The final quarter features a slow, slinky, bluesy ballad called “Lace/Chains” that might be the best thing on here; Bryant sings it with confidence and authority, giving it exactly what it needs. “Just As Well” is another solid effort leading into her final curveball, as keening closer “Bridges” takes on an almost country-folk feel.

Bryant’s voice is mixed up front throughout, exactly where it should be; it’s the most compelling thing here. And in true Zeppelin style, it’s on the heaviest and lightest numbers that Bryant feels most in her element. High Priestess showcases Bryant’s sharply-drawn songs in a way that emphasizes her stylistic range and leaves you wanting more.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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