Kelley Ryan


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One mark of an exceptional pop music talent is the ability to make songs that sound simultaneously universal and deeply personal. Another is the ability to trick you with what sounds like simplicity, using it to pull you into something that goes a bit deeper -- either sonically (notice how many layers there are to the sweetly chiming "About a Girl," both in terms of its arrangement and the constantly shifting undertow of its chord changes) or lyrically (notice the emotional depth of "Bridie's Eyes," not to mention the gorgeously astringent string arrangement that supports it). Both of those, like several other of the album's best songs, were co-written with producer and power pop legend Don Dixon; Marti Jones also contributed writing on "All About a Girl" and "Key to My Heart," and she sings backup on several tracks as well. The three make a powerful team, but it's Kelley Ryan's voice, her lyrics, and her heartbreaking way with a melody that make this such a special album. "The Lady's Daughter" takes the simplest possible tune, little more than a lullaby, and turns it into something ambiguous and wonderful; "Monkey with a Flashlight" is gently percolating, perfect pop music with a tinge of late-afternoon melancholy, the kind of music you'd listen to on the way home from the beach rather than on the way there. "The Speaks" is soft acoustic reggae with absolutely perfect background harmonies; here you might wish that Dixon's bassline were a bit more interesting -- reggae is nothing if not an opportunity to write a great melody for the bass -- but you wouldn't have wanted it to distract from Ryan's voice, either. And "Key to My Heart" takes a melody as pretty as a china vase and places it in a 1960s girl group groove, slyly ending without a harmonic resolution. Like so much great pop music, Twist appeals immediately on the surface and then yields more and more with repeated listening, and it's easily one of the most satisfying releases of 2010.

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