Stephanie’s Id, Grus Americanus
(Nine Mile Recordings, CD)
More often than I care to admit, I find myself cross-legged in the midst of CDs strewn about the room, reconsidering some of the albums I crated in the wake of Sarah McLachlan’s late-’90s traveling femme-fest, Lilith Fair. Not the headliners, mind you, but the 5 p.m. slotters who held my heart and attention one afternoon long ago with the promise of great things to come — or at least a recognizable single on “Dawson’s Creek.”
Calling the genre “girl pop” feels wrong. Dirty, almost. But it did pop, as it should have. It was real music, not over-produced studio candy. Simply put, those albums were noteworthy efforts in songwriting and musicianship from fresh female voices. With that in mind, I mean no disrespect in using “girl pop” to describe Grus Americanus, the third release from Asheville, N.C.-based quartet, Stephanie’s Id.
The album is centered on Stephanie Morgan’s divergent croon, which moves from urgent indie-rock wail through mellow R&B, before closing the record with an airy ambience. The band ably follows suit, perhaps as the result of their collaborative songwriting, which is a lovely concept, ideally. But they are clearly more comfortable in certain genres than others, and ultimately the album left me wishing they would pick a style or two and really own it, as opposed to taking giant leaps into the unknown. However, some might see this eclecticism as part of the group’s appeal.
Morgan has been labeled a “hyperactive siren” and, after spinning her tunes a few times, I agree. The album’s finest moments come when her voice takes on a smoky, subtle tone, met by husband Chuck Lichtenberger on piano or Fender Rhodes. “Hey Hey Hey (It’s Going to Be OK)” does just that, and adds Woody Wood (for real) on backing vocals. Smooth, soulful and uplifting, the tune almost seems an homage to Macy Gray.
The effortless “Unmistakably Love” (CLICK HERE TO LISTEN) is built for commercial success with its rolling pop piano, carefree message and a recent nod from National Public Radio. It is a surefire hit for the next Dawson and Joey make-out scene — or the 2008 equivalent. Oh, Katie Holmes, what happened?!
Grus Americanus, while not the most cohesive album, holds the potential and promise for an eclectic live performance. Find out for yourself as Stephanie’s Id make their Vermont debut at the Langdon Street Café in Montpelier this Thursday.