My Heart

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Sissel's My Heart can be summed up in a single word -- pretty. Everything about the disc is pretty. The cover is pretty, the title is pretty, the songs are pretty, it all sounds pretty, and even Sissel herself is, well, pretty. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as pretty music does have a place in this world; however, this style has a tendency to be pretty saccharine, pretty dull, and pretty boring. My Heart is not as bad as that thanks to expert collaborators like Ettore Stratta and Richard Marx, but it rarely aspires to be more than just pretty music. Vocally capable, Sissel has a beautiful and haunting tone that can entrance a listener and she can successfully navigate between light operatic songs and contemporary pop much like Sarah Brightman or Josh Groban. But what distinguishes those artists from Sissel is their selection of more interesting and varied material. While Brightman and Groban have branched out by experimenting with different genres or writing their own songs, Sissel remains entrenched in familiar classics like Schubert's Ave Maria or treacly ballads like Jon Lord's "Wait a While." Oddly enough, Sissel even covers hits by Brightman ("Pie Jesu") and Groban ("You Raise Me Up"), as if trying to catch up with the competition. The sole track that hints at better things is "Angel Rays," a song co-written by emerging singer/songwriter Gemma Hayes and featured on the soundtrack to the film Evelyn. With an acoustic guitar setting the mood, the contemporary folk song is markedly unique amid the orchestral pieces, and Sissel approaches it like a tamer Joan Baez quietly conveying the delicate lyrics. Although not as captivating as "Angel Rays," she also does well with two tepid ballads, "Someone Like You" and "Beyond Imagination," written by '80s pop star Richard Marx. The inclusion of these tracks demonstrates that Sissel can find and perform much more interesting songs than the standard mass-appeal selections elsewhere on My Heart. There is no need for her to simply rely on pretty songs, because she has the ability to make music that is thoughtful, creative, adventurous, and beautiful. Again, nothing on this disc is necessarily bad; it's just that there is little here to take her artistry to the next level. Regardless of the material, Sissel's voice still manages to enthrall and the vocal charisma she generates makes My Heart a pretty (and pretty good) listen.

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