Ariel Abshire, Ginger Leigh, Autumn, and Penny Jo Pullus
Reviewed by Margaret Moser, Fri., Nov. 28, 2008
Ariel Abshire's debut disc, Exclamation Love (Darla), is an utterly exquisite and remarkable recording. At 17, Abshire has a voice that booms full-blown, and the lean instrumentation courtesy of producer Andy Sharp frames those vocals gracefully. Once you get past being knocked out by her voice – Abshire studied at Natural Ear Music School and often performs with Alvin Crow's Hardcore Country – her songwriting takes center stage. "Goddamn geography and the tectonic plates, making America shaped this way; it would never work out, I know," she sings in "Goddamn New Mexico" with enough passion and heartfelt soul to make her the premier singer-songwriter of Austin's under-18 set. There's a sweetness to Abshire's writing that can be written off as youth, but it's universal youth, the one that lives inside anyone who ever survived heartbreak at 16. The title of Ginger Leigh's new recording, Don't Be Shy, sounds like the advice she's always given herself to record whatever she damn well pleases without regard for trend. That set of no expectations marks her new album with confident mastery in "Paris My Secret" and "Best of Me," which frame Leigh's formidable vocals with cool pop jazziness. The gorgeous "Capri" and her love of wordplay on "Dissected" make this one of Leigh's finest discs yet. Autumn followed up her notable 2006 release, Sugarcane, by remembering the first lesson of a sophomore release: Give the audience plenty of what it came for the first time. Autumn's warm voice wraps "Lessons Never Learned" and "Trains I Missed" in the blanket of folky Americana. The Walt Wilkins-Tim Lorsch produced Velvet Sky posits Autumn alongside Wendy Colonna among the strongest of Austin's new songwriters. The charm of Penny Jo Pullus' new CD isn't diminished by the long and awkward title, My Barn Having Burned, I Can Now See the Moon. While she does well opening with Brian Setzer's "Knife Feels Like Justice," Pullus' songs "Chimayo" and "This Time, Next Time" are powerful statements on their own, blending Pullus' roots-rock tendencies with her love for old AM radio on hand-clapping tunes like "Little Black Dress."