Shane Bartell and Michele Solberg
Reviewed by Christopher Gray, Fri., Aug. 17, 2001
Beyond the Blue (Chocolate)Summer minus great pop music is like no air conditioning. Everyone's blood is up, and in Texas especially, crazy from the heat is more of a lifestyle than an expression. It's hard to blame Shane Bartell for wanting to lie around listening to the Red House Painters in "Harris Park," for example, or not mowing the yard because The Simpsons is on during "My Dad." His seven-song Reference is one of those cool nocturnal breezes off Town Lake, all too brief and yet profoundly refreshing. Bartell has a natural gift with melodies, polished to a high gloss by producer Lars Goransson. The lush "Water," jazzy "I Should Have Known," and frenetic "Desperate" all fill the room with radiant, supple reasons to smile. Besides, how can you not love a songwriter who tosses off observations like "I know it's wrong to be in my parents' house alone"? Michele Solberg's new Beyond the Blue is similarly dedicated to the prospect of keeping oneself cool, which given the amount of emotional and geographical upheaval present, is quite an accomplishment. Solberg's airy, hand-knitted vignettes contain more rootsy elements than her previous work, though it's the kind of rootsy associated with the lonely desert highways she considers traveling down in the whispery "Muleshoe." Elsewhere, chamber pieces like "Small Symphony" and "Beyond the Blue" bask in Solberg's wistful purr, while "Rainy Season" has enough sultry sexuality lurking just beneath its deceptively quiet surface to make Lucinda Willams nervous. Even so, the unlikely show-stopper is "Waking Place," a piquant diary of insomnia featuring a stunning turn on lap steel by Louis Meyers. Neither one of these albums will make it any cooler outdoors, but they'll make fine soundtracks, whiling away a lazy afternoon, and in that way, helping make the summer that much more bearable. Or almost, anyway.