Vanessa Carlton probably couldn't have happened without Alicia Keys, but that doesn't mean they sound the same. Both artists are preternaturally talented and write on keyboards, sounding much older than their years. The difference is, Carlton pretty much revels in her advanced years, creating a record that recalls the lush ambition of Keys, but also the soul-searching of Fiona Apple and the precise intricacies of Rick Wakeman. Certainly, this wasn't something she planned to evoke, but the end result is pretty impressive all the same, because it's so well crafted, from both Carlton and her producer, Ron Fair, who doesn't stop her from taking leaps that could potentially prove embarrassing. And there are embarrassing moments on her debut, Be Not Nobody, the most notable of those is a ham-fisted, melodramatic cover of the Stones' "Paint It, Black," which for all the world feels like a single dictated by the studio. That's the nadir of the album, but the rest is charmingly ambitious and often quite accomplished. Take the lead single, "A Thousand Miles" -- as it moves from its solo piano opening to bombastic orchestral-backed choruses, the result isn't overwhelming, it's sweet, multi-layered, and appealing. And most of her debut album follows that lead, often overflowing with soaring strings, intimate pianos, crooned vocals, and pretty melodies, yet it all gels because Carlton shows the potential of a songwriter who can convey her emotions through her songcraft. Sure, some of Be Not Nobody is naïve, but much of it's well crafted and nearly all of it is endearing; it's a rare debut that is quite enjoyable in its own right yet is almost more enticing because of what it suggests that she could do next.
Be Not Nobody Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine