Sophie Zelmani

I'm the Rain

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You only need an acoustic guitar, some chords, and everyman vocals to be a singer/songwriter, but the sparse setup and low-entry threshold also imply high quality standards -- hopefuls have to work very hard to produce something worth the attention. All the more praise for Sophie Zelmani, whose eighth album is an extremely low-key but alluring example of what countrified acoustic music can be when handled right. The tunes don't always avoid full instrumentation, but the vibe is so subdued that a sole bass guitar note can have the power of an incoming earthquake rumble, working more impressively than many crank-it-to-eleven blasts on louder records (though the impression recedes as more notes follow). Some rhythm play is present, with "You Can Always Long for May" sounding vaguely like an old-fashioned Gypsy ballad due to its one-two-three count, but all of that is only an afterthought distracting from the core sound of the record -- Zelmani's soft semi-spoken vocals and her guitar strumming. Neither the lyrics nor the playing are flashy to any degree -- the opposite, in fact -- but the interplay of simple melodic textures and melancholic singing is at once lulling and captivating -- an effect that can only be credited to the fact that this is honest music, with substance but devoid of smug pomp or preaching that is the pitfall of many skilled singer/songwriters. The album is similar to the Early Day Miners and Norway's obscure folk-rock geniuses Nærvær, but even more so to a soundtrack for an indie flick that barely registers on the box office radar the week it comes out, but is worth keeping on DVD, placed on your best shelf with the cover facing the visitors, for its heartfelt and clever mood. I'm the Rain may not be as brilliant as that hypothetical movie, but it will be no embarrassment to any (but maybe the most snobby) music collector.

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