Jennifer Ellen Cook, Ruby James, Aly Tadros, Elizabeth Wills, Chrysta Bell, and Tribella
Reviewed by Margaret Moser, Fri., April 30, 2010
Jennifer Ellen Cook called her latest CD A Storytelling of Crows, but she might just as easily have named it Je Ne Sais Quoi for all its elusive charm. Crows tells tales, some of them about Cook herself. Mike Stewart's fine hand produced this 1960s-influenced indie pop, which lets us in on the wisdom and lyrical acuity Cook's accrued over her years on the local scene. Speaking of producers, it's no small feat to ride into Austin unknown and scoop up Charlie Sexton to produce your album, yet Ruby James accomplished just that. Happy Now pairs her in the engaging singer-songwriter mode with Sexton's sterling vision, especially closer "Say Goodbye." All songs were written by James, who sometimes duets around town with Rosie Flores. The dedication for Aly Tadros' Things Worth Keeping refers to the death of a beloved friend. But even without that information, it's clear some of these are songs of wistful yearning and desire for that which is just out of reach. What Tadros finds worth keeping in her songs stays near indie-folk borders – not so much the "Tom Waits on estrogen" she aspires to, but it's appealing and tender nonetheless. Count among the Save-the-Cactus faithful Elizabeth Wills, whose Love Comes Home further demonstrates her commitment to the singer-songwriter genre by including the Live at the Bugle Boy EP. Wills comes from the more traditional folk end of the bench, and having producer Mark Hallman (Eliza Gilkyson) at the console makes her studio work resonate with equal parts good humor and good feeling, which then translates live. The ultra-sleek Chrysta Bell, who fronted Austin's 8½ Souvenirs in the 1990s, would never have been caught with a big hole in her stocking, but hey, this is 2010; it's time to put away the martinis and pick up Bitter Pills & Delicacies. This is one of the classiest releases yet this year, layering Bell's signature cabaret cool and her beautifully cultivated vocals with bull-fiddle bottom and occasional indie-rock muscle. The local all-girl trio Tribella shimmers with Thirteen, 10 songs so deliciously sweet and deftly crafted with divine innocence that they're as fresh as the April mornings of late, employing Bananarama vocals with Breeders guts to deliver a solid three-star debut.