Singer/songwriter Syd Straw's 1989 debut album Surprise charted a path soon followed by a number of more famous female rockers, makes herself different from the rest of the female rock artists of the '80s and '90s. She's earnest in a way that doesn't have to be automatically friendly or mysteriously cunning. Surprise was reissued by the Koch label ten years after its initial release and marks the album's simplistic beauty. Representing a departure from her '80s work with the Golden Palominos, Surprise finds Straw in the role of down-home girl with a heart to be mended, singing of love like everyone else but with a style all her own. The album exhibits Straw's broad range, from brooding songs like "Crazy American" and "Sphinx" to "Future 40s (String of Pearls)," a twangy lovesucker featuring backup from R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe. (Straw's abrasiveness on this track is utterly perfect, especially in contrast to Stipe's calmer vocal approach.) But Surprise isn't based entirely around Straw's patented vocal style, earnest while neither overly friendly nor mysteriously cunning. This is also an album of strong musicianship from Straw (her guitar work is impeccable throughout) and an all-star cast including Daniel Lanois, Benmont Tench, John Doe of X, and Richard Thompson. The album's style and production mix jangle pop elements from the preceding decade with a roots rock tone, and the overall result has a healthy folkish disposition. Surprise anticipates what was to come for females in rock during the '90s; Syd Straw was first in a line of artists who most prominently included Sheryl Crow, Joan Osborne, and Edie Brickell. Koch Records is to be commended for setting this little bit of history straight by reissuing the classic album Surprise in March 2000.
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AllMusic Review by MacKenzie Wilson
feat: Joe Ely