Serena Ryder

If Your Memory Serves You Well

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For her second full-length, and major-label debut, Canadian singer Serena Ryder chose to mainly focus on the songs of others, specifically, other Canadians, writing just three of the tracks on If Your Memory Serves You Well. Those three tracks, in fact, happen to be the weakest -- most predictable, with the most clich├ęd lyrics and progressions, and the ones on which the super-clean production seems the most forced -- on the entire album. The rest of it, however, ranging from Paul Anka's "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" to a sultry, nighttime version of the Lovin' Spoonful's "Coconut Grove" (co-writer and bandmember Zal Yanovsky was from Toronto) to the Band's great "This Wheel's on Fire" (from which the title of the album was taken), are done well, keeping the original song intact while still adding new, contemporary personality and style. Ryder has a good voice, slightly smoky, and versatile enough to cover all of the pieces here without straining itself or sounding out-of-place, but clearly it's bluesy rock in which she feels most comfortable, and the direction in which most of her interpretations go. Shelton Brooks's "Some of These Days" is jazzy but also very modern, with Latin hand drums and an accordion complementing the vocal lines, while Percy Faith's "My Heart Cries for You" takes more of the Ray Charles route, a passionate, country-blues modern rock take on a classic. If Your Memory Serves You Well definitely has the big label feel, with clean production and smooth grooves, but it's professional and good, and doesn't lose any of the emotion that these songs, and Ryder, want to convey. Only when she moves into her own material do things take a turn for the worst, the singer sounding like some kind of Alanis Morissette/Jann Arden rip-off, too poppy and too simple to do much more than play out and end. Ryder's definitely got the chops to go far, but she's got to prove she can write her material, or hire a good set of songwriters (much like the ones she covers here), if she wants to get there.

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