Previously a backing vocalist for the likes of Billy Joel, Sting, and Lady Gaga, and recently the voice of the UPS ad jingle, South African-born, Aussie-raised and now New York-based singer/songwriter Nadia Ackerman is unlikely to remain a relatively anonymous figure for much longer if her second album, The Ocean Master, is anything to go by. Named after her father's fish & chip shop, it's a record heavily inspired by a childhood spent by the sea on Sydney's Northern Beaches, but it's one which bravely tackles her more painful experiences in among the rose-tinted slices of nostalgia. Indeed, lead single, "Mary Jane," is something of a red herring, its jaunty sea shanty melodies based on a nursery rhyme she wrote as an infant ("Mary Jane went to Spain/in a chocolate airplane") one of the few times the album attempts to quicken the rather solemn pace. Luckily, the other uptempo numbers are less self-consciously kooky, sitting somewhere between the breezy organic acoustic folk of Yael Naim ("Live Again") and the disjointed jazz-pop of Regina Spektor ("Lighthouse"). But it's on the more stripped-back efforts where Ackerman's haunting lyrics and gorgeously melancholic tones truly work their magic, whether it's the steel-laden wistful alt-country of "Risk It All," the subtle cello-driven "Underground," which recalls Sheryl Crow at her most understated, or the Sigur Rós-esque choral backing vocals which are layered throughout the hymn-like "The Middle of the Sea," and the haunting banshee balladry of "My Ship." An unflinchingly honest trip down memory lane, The Ocean Master suggests singing about package delivery companies should be a thing of the past.
AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien