A recommended second album of well-crafted songs, worth investigating.
David Quantick 2012
She was born in Brooklyn but lives in the UK, which is just as well for Nell Bryden as the singer is currently a darling of Radio 2, whose DJs and programmers have fallen for her moody yet tuneful second album Shake the Tree. And while such a seal of approval might suggest that Bryden is in the same league as Katie Melua or Duffy, she possesses a lot more depth than those artists have so far appeared capable of mining.
There’s an edge to Bryden’s music, even in its quietest moments, which sets her aside from such peers. And while at times her songs can wash over the listener – Downtown Lullaby, for example, is more lullaby than Downtown in a powerful Petula Clark sense – she frequently finds contrast enough to leave a notable impression. Even though some of her big ballads, like Even When a Heart Breaks, creep in and fade away again rather than crash on the rocks Mariah Carey-style.
Bryden’s at her best when she steps out of the Daniel Lanois-influenced soundscapes (sometimes she sounds like U2 with its edges sanded off) and into a more varied pop music zone. So the listener will have more fun skipping the mini epics for the lighter moments – the zippy Portrait, which sounds like Eurythmics gone country; or the Jolene-ish rockabilly lope of Mercy on Me.
The slow tunes do work on more than one occasion – Dusty Springfield is channelled into a rock vibe on both Fingerprints and Couldn’t Love You More, while there’s Annie Lennox-style drama on the title track (inspired by Bryden’s father telling her that she was the kind of person who’d shake the tree rather than wait for the fruit to fall).
The closing track, Someday, nods to Sandy Denny’s Who Knows Where the Time Goes. The late singer’s style, and those of the aforementioned comparisons, are in Bryden’s music, but finely assimilated rather than lazily copied. There’s lyrical sharpness too, especially in the break-up tones of Buildings and Treetops’ big pop, and later in Portrait’s observation that the lines around her eyes contain everyone she knows.
In the end, Shake the Tree is a good album rather than a great one, but there are many moments worthy of investigation. So investigate.