Alexa Ray Joel


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Like her famous father Billy, Alexa Ray Joel is a pianist who is also a singer/songwriter, so it's easy to draw comparisons between the two based upon her 2006 debut EP, Sketches. Just because it's easy to draw comparisons doesn't mean that they're inaccurate, and there are traits that the two share that go beyond mere blood, or such superficial comparisons as they both play piano, especially because on a first listen, Alexa Ray seems to have more in common with the classicist coffeehouse pop of Norah Jones. Like Jones, the younger Joel is a serious, ambitious performer, drawing on a lot of different styles to create her instantly familiar pop, which gives Sketches a lived-in feel; this is music that feels like it's been around a lot longer than Joel's 20 years, which does mean that she draws from familiar music, but she also does it well, writing tight, melodic, catchy songs that are as classically constructed as her father's without sounding much like his work -- this is too coffeehouse for him. Yet, those shared family traits ring through strongly, particularly a coiled rebellious streak that seems greatly at odds with the rich melodicism of the music. On "The Revolution Song," a lilting, languid song that builds to a chorus and fades, Alexa Ray sings that she has "a fucking problem with authority," not unlike her father who threw stones at glass houses, and she displays those anxious outsider tendencies throughout the EP, as she romanticizes eras she didn't live through, searches for love that's not quick to come, and fights the man. The music might not sound like Joel is angry -- even when she's rocking on the stop-start "Now It's Gone," this music sounds sweet -- but that's not unlike her father either, who might have had a song called "Angry Young Man" but few believed that he was. The best, most interesting thing about Sketches is that it illustrates that this restless tendency has been passed on from father to daughter, along with whatever natural musical genes, which makes Alexa Ray Joel, on the basis of this debut EP, one of the best second-generation rockers to yet emerge. On a simple musical basis, this is warm and engaging -- and Alexa Ray's thin and earnest yet unwavering voice is also very appealing -- and a worthy debut, but Sketches finds Joel pushing and pulling against her gifts instead of coasting with them, and the result is an EP that is the best kind of debut teaser: after hearing this, it's hard not to want to hear Alexa Ray Joel over a full album.

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