Paula Frazer

Indoor Universe

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Unsurprisingly, given her wide-ranging artistic focus since the start of Tarnation, Indoor Universe isn't so much a new direction for Paula Frazer as simply a further consolidation of her strengths, at once drawing on the sheer variety that she enjoys working with while still maintaining a key central vision. Her rich, classically country vocals again ground her music in a sound of mythic America, as much as, say, the singing of her fellow Bay Area musician Chris Isaak, and like Isaak, she quietly, carefully combines things into an all-encompassing style. If anything there might also be a hint of the Walkabouts' similarly open-eared encapsulation of approaches -- a song like "Gone" touches on everything from Gene Pitney's operatic pop drama to Burt Bacharach's supreme easy listening and a hint of post-punk guitar atmospherics. Her backing musicians this time around are among her best choices yet, with Patrick Main being the key collaborator, his work on keys and occasional percussion often providing the lead melody for many pieces. "That You Know" helps set the album's overall tone with its dreamy evocation of Nancy & Lee Western melodrama (and there's no question Frazer can knock the socks off Ms. Sinatra vocally), haunted strings adding to the final impact even as her voice winningly cuts across them. For all that, there's a lot of implicit theatricality to much of Indoor Universe -- check out "Deep Was the Night" for another stellar example -- and many songs aim for a gentler approach, even when the lyrics are a touch more barbed, as on the end-of-the-romance "Think of Me." At points things are downright delightful, like Main's playful introduction to the early-'60s tearjerker-tinged "Not So Bad, But Not So Good," one of Frazer's best all-around performances (credit as well to Pete Main's mid-song clarinet break).

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