At first glance, it seems that singer/songwriter Marié Digby has a lot going for her -- or a lot of strikes against her, depending on your perspective. A cute twentysomething hailing from California, Digby hits upon every single mainstream pop trend of the new millennium. She first surfaced as the 2004 winner of Pantene's Pro-Voice Music Competition (her winning tune, "Miss Invisible"), signaling her comfort with cozying up to corporations, something that only increased as she came closer to the spring 2008 release of her debut album, Unfold, as she appeared in a Gap campaign and had her songs heard on Smallville. Much more significantly, Marié covered Rihanna's inescapable hit "Umbrella" in the summer of 2007, with her version initially appearing as an acoustic cover on YouTube, where it became a viral hit, leading to her version being heard on MTV's reality show The Hills, paving the way to the release of Unfold. All this chumminess with mall culture undoubtedly raised Digby's profile, but it also had an unwanted side effect of painting her as a musician who existed only as a corporate creature -- an impression that is unfair because at its best, Unfold is a winning, tuneful debut that displays stronger songcraft than those initial forays into mass culture might suggest. Digby possesses a warm, sweet voice but she's more of a conversational singer than a showy diva, which was the secret to her "Umbrella" cover, as she zeroed in on both the melody and the emotional thrust of the song. She demonstrates the same skills on her original tunes, but Unfold is blown up to a grand scale, all the better to be heard as bumper music on TV or in the background of a store. To her immense credit, Digby has enough pull in her voice and might in her melodies to sound comfortable in this context, and although on the softer moments she can't break through the glistening surfaces of the productions, when she has the right song she is as good as mainstream pop gets in 2008. High on the list of highlights is the opening "Fool," "Stupid for You," which swings like a sweetened Aimee Mann, and "Girlfriend," which is fueled equally by crunching power chords and surprising defiance by Digby, although the adult-pop-by-numbers of "Better Off Alone" and the sugary symphonic "Beauty in Walking Away" aren't far behind, either. These are the moments on Unfold that not only suggest why Hollywood Records and so many corporations are so hot on Marié, but better still they're also the reasons why pop fans should ignore all that commotion and concentrate on the very good music she has to offer on this appealingly slick debut.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine