Dee Carstensen

The Map

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Dee Carstensen follows in the footsteps of Shawn Colvin and Suzanne Vega with the polished folk-pop of The Map. While she falls shy of their skills as a songwriter, the singer/harpist is too bright a talent to stand in their shadows, and yet the spotlight of wide commercial acceptance seems to have missed her. For a relative unknown, Carstensen drew a wide circle of talented supporting musicians around her: Mike Mainieri, Tony Levin, Marc Shulman, T-Bone Wolk, Kenny White, and others. The result is an album without one half-formed song; these are all winning arrangements, lush and lovely and longing. As a lyricist, Carstensen is merely OK; as a harpist...well, it's hard to tell in these settings. But as a vocalist, she's terrific, capturing shades of seduction on a cover of Elton John's "Come Down in Time," re-assessing her mistakes in the country-pop setting of "The Boy Was Trouble," stripping down her soul for bare narratives like "Farewell, My Love" and "The Last Time It Mattered," finding the trail of redemption on the upbeat "Saviour." Fans of female folk-pop will likely marvel at The Map, wondering why Carstensen hasn't joined the front ranks of singer/songwriters. Perhaps the Lilith Fair scene had a smaller halo effect than expected, and major labels found themselves back in the familiar habit of trumping out some twinkie-of-the-month with a bared midriff. That's not to say The Map itself isn't formulaic in its own way, but it's such glossy, gauzy, wonderfully polished product that it goes down like a half-pint of premium ice cream: a guilty pleasure perhaps, but also a salve at the end of a hard day.

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