Patty Blee's debut album, Disguise, won't go down in history as the most groundbreaking release of 2002, but in terms of quality and craftsmanship, Disguise has a lot going for it. The New Jersey native's specialty is earthy, bluesy roots rock and pop/rock with country and folk influences -- her approach is basically Bonnie Raitt meets Melissa Etheridge meets Sheryl Crow meets Lucinda Williams. And while Blee is hardly the only East Coast singer/songwriter who is doing this type of thing, she does it better than many of her contemporaries. Blee (who is heard on acoustic guitar) is an expressive vocalist, and her gritty and rugged yet vulnerable outlook serves her well on rootsy originals like "Soul Dancing" and "Down to the Water." Much to their credit, producers Randy Friel and Richard Crooks don't overproduce. They obviously realize that an artist as rootsy and bluesy as Blee is better off with a real, honest to God band sound -- not a high-tech, programmed sound -- and they see to it that Disguise ends up sounding organic rather than slick. Under Friel and Crooks' direction, Blee doesn't use any drum machines or high-tech synthesizers. Organ and acoustic piano are the only keyboard instruments, and the producers maintain a down-home ambience with instruments like the mandolin, the violin, and the accordion. One of the musicians employed on this disc is accordion player Augie Meyers, who is known for his work with the Sir Douglas Quintet and adds a slight Tex-Mex/southwestern flavor to some of the tunes (especially "Lucky Ones" and the title track). Again, Disguise doesn't pretend to reinvent the roots rock wheel, but it's a solid, respectable debut that will appeal to those who have a lot of Raitt and Etheridge CDs in their collections.
by Alex Henderson