Sometimes I think it would be more fitting if press releases read like weather forecasts.
“This new record is looking bleak, stay inside, read a book instead.”
“This hot new artist could be nice, depending on the trends moving in.”
“Don’t even bother looking out the window, this won’t affect you at all.”
Unfortunately they read more like commercials. Or entirely like commercials. And as the unstoppable rebel force that is Web 2.0 finally absorbs us all, we’ll be able to add the sneakiness of self promotional Wikipedary to the shameless promotional machine. But despite a suspiciously personal and favorable Wiki page, Francesca Battistelli feels like some semblance of the “real deal.” Not necessarily worth the over-the-top dribblings of a press release, but maybe well worth her weight in overused adjectives.
If this was a weather forecast, it would be a storm watch. Not as powerful as a warning, but every bit as potential. All the probability of action and wonder and change. Battistelli’s storm like conditions would be rumbling with possibilities. Conditions are indeed ideal. Looks, talent, personality, production values, and an ear for the accessible, as well as the unique.
Within minutes of Paper Heart‘s beginnings we are all too reminded of how fresh and open and lovely the mainstream Christian music community can be, or could be, were creative youngsters more surefooted in their artistic convictions, and corporate label reps not entirely scared to death of anything beyond the realm of their focus groups.
So we gather our bearings. How to start? Is it fair to award a sparkly-eyed singer-songwriter for aiming low on the originality scale, just because she so effortlessly fires on all the melody cylinders? I think so. In theory, originality trumps all. If you were cursed with a severely corrosive voice (or even just a mediocre one) but blessed with endless creativity (enter Bob Dylan, Daniel Smith, Conor Oberst, Aaron Weiss, Daniel Johnston, or Half Handed Cloud), then in theory the ideas trump the aesthetics. In theory. But when a melody sinks into your heart and works its way out, theory is about as useful as an open bar at the Dove Awards. And about as profitable. Really good pop music shouldn’t be measured against Pavement, the Knife, or the Animal Collective, it should be measured against other pop music. And this is some of the best.
Battistelli has the makings of an older, young Bethany Dillon, if you follow. The same innocence, the same talent, and the same flawless fluttery woven vocal treatment. She’s not as good as Dillon is now, but she’s much stronger and more consistent than B-Dil was in her early days. She recalls a feisty Joy Williams, a sanctified Sara Bareilles, a young Amy Grant sans pointless controversy, and a hint of every soulful girl who’s turned off Coyote Ugly and picked up a guitar or pulled up a piano.
Rhodesy whirls, simple loops, various other well (and over) produced instruments, and older-sounding-than-I-really-am vocals make themselves known right off the bat, as she dips her toes into disco funk, alt country, black gospel, and top 40 pop without seeming to break a sweat or bat a lash. Fliffy-fluff lyrics prove that she’s no Nichole Nordeman, but little tastes of general ethnicities could hint that she has no desire to be. She appears to live by the motto that as long as you can get into someone’s head, or more likely everyone’s head, the rest will take care of itself. Be catchy at all costs.
It doesn’t have to become a gender issue, but it probably will. It’s not that women are inherently worse at the creative process (probably the opposite), or less prone to confident songwriting (is anything more confident than Stevie Nicks, Liz Phair, or Joni Mitchell?) but for some reason the playing field sometimes seems far and few between when it comes to the feminine “I play my instruments, and write all my own songs” scene. And whether it is due to the inner workings of a sexist industry, or the temptation to strip down and sell out, it makes a “total package” girl like Battistelli a breath of fresh radio-ready air.
Jordan Kurtz is a Patrol music editor.
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