Miss Li

Late Night Heartbroken Blues

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Miss Li's debut album introduced her scrappy, exuberant, modern take on classic cabaret-style jazz-pop. It's definitely not the sort of music you'd expect from a Swedish twenty-something, which makes this, at least initially, a very striking release, and it's undeniably a blast of energy, though there is something vaguely bland and tiresome about it in spite of its zesty exterior. The basic M.O. is established right off the bat, in the brief title track, with its handclaps, swingin' oompah rhythm, and brassily belted barstool tale of a night of boozing (the opening count-off turns out to be the number of beers she's drinking) leading to a desperate, meaningless one-night-stand, complete with spoken aside. From there on we get hot 'n' bothered torch ballads ("Give It to Me"), slinky shuffles ("Backstabber Lady"), jokey piano ditties ("I'm So Poor Won't You Lend Me Some Money"), and so forth; a survey of show tuney styles that doesn't come off as self-conscious pastiche so much as earnest if amateurish genre work. Fortunately - crucially - Li does have the pipes to pull it off, and perhaps even more importantly, the attitude: she attacks the material with a gusto that can't help but be a little infectious, clearly having too much fun to worry about whether she sounds corny. It's a perfectly apt approach for such unabashedly theatrical music, but it's a little hard to shake the notion that this is just a girl playing dress-up, and despite some seriously accomplished instrumental contributions from her bandmates, Li's rather hamfisted piano playing creates the sense that she's still in rehearsal. Still, there are a few tunes that display some promise on the songwriting front, typically those which don't overplay the jazzy/cabaret angle but offer a bit more genuine sentiment, such as the lighthearted piano pop of "Seems Like We Lost It," the sweet, simple waltz-ballad "High on You," and, in a different direction, the bluegrass-fueled rave-up "Bring It Up," a duet with guitarist Sonny Boy Gustafsson. Not too shabby for a first act.

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