Keri Noble

Fearless

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After the female singer/songwriter boom of the '90s -- a boom that saw the rise of everyone from Alanis Morissette to Paula Cole to Shawn Colvin -- singer/songwriters lost some commercial ground for a few years. But that wasn't a permanent situation, thankfully; the popularity of Vanessa Carlton, Avril Lavigne, and Michelle Branch in 2003 demonstrated that there was still a healthy market for female singer/songwriters and that not every young woman who picked up a microphone was expected to sound like Britney Spears. That singer/songwriter aesthetic is very much at work on Fearless, which shows Keri Noble to be an artist of considerable depth and sensitivity. Because of the Arif Mardin connection -- he is one of Fearless' executive producers -- and because Noble is a romantic, piano-playing female vocalist, some listeners might wonder if she is anything like Norah Jones. Mardin, of course, had a track record before Jones was even born, but Jones' Come Away With Me was the veteran producer's greatest accomplishment in the early 2000s -- and given Jones' tremendous success, it isn't surprising that many industry insiders wondered who would be "the next Norah Jones." But if anyone can be accused of trying to emulate Jones, it certainly isn't Noble; when this adult alternative release is playing, one is much more likely to think of Sarah McLachlan, Paula Cole, or Mary Fahl (of October Project fame). Noble, however, is her own woman, and her reflections sound quite personal on introspective, soulful offerings like "Falling," "Bartender," and "Look at Me." Fearless is not an album that goes out of its way to push the smile button; at times, Noble's observations can be dark and melancholy. But if Fearless is less than optimistic on the whole, it is also impressively honest and sincere -- emotionally, Noble really lays it on the line, and she shows a great deal of promise on this superb debut.

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