Kate Bennett

Over the Moon

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Immediately opening with the breezy, Caribbean-style title track, it would be tempting to describe the debut by California singer/songwriter Kate Bennett as sunny and warm, but it is actually far more preoccupied with the night, as the album title intimates. Many of the hallmarks that have traditionally characterized California singer/songwriter music are present -- desire, yearning, regret, and idealism, all cloaked in metaphors pulled from the state's gorgeous natural landscape -- but Bennett seems most interested in delving into dark and somber terrain and imagery, and bringing the melancholy world of twilight to life almost like magic. Fallen angels, stars, and silences fill the songs as if they are living people; wind acts as an audible voice rather than a phenomenon of nature, presenting a breathing panorama that cleanses on the one hand, but conceals on the other. Even on romantic love songs such as "Indigo Blue" and "Promise Me," the minor-key melodies seem to imply that there is something much more complicated and tangled occurring beneath the surface. The production values of the album, in contrast, provide more of a live feel than a studio sound, and that, ironically enough, makes Over the Moon seem the slightest bit sterile and undercooked in patches. Still, the album grows more intriguing with repeated listening, when it begins to reveal its subtle charms and influences. Polished and dramatic, Bennett's songwriting seems less based in folk-rock than in the country-inflected soft rock, bluesy rock, and adult alternative pop of the '80s and '90s. Her quavering voice recalls both Susanna Hoffs and a less-studied Linda Ronstadt. Comparisons have ranged from Joni Mitchell to Shawn Colvin, but those seem perfunctory at best; she is considerably less artful than Mitchell (an unfair comparison for any songwriter to begin with) and, although possessing some of her honey-throated somnolence, less earthy than Colvin. Instead, Bennett tends toward the mystical. Over the Moon could have benefited from a bit of musical and lyrical bite to accentuate the artist's ethereal transcendentalism and complement her interesting, tense melodies. In general, the album seems to lack a certain passionate je ne sais quoi, as if the songs were perhaps slightly too workshopped. But by and large, it introduces a singer/songwriter to keep tabs on.

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