june 2009

Close Encounters

by Laura Fissinger

Where Talent Towers Over Ambition

Unsigned and undaunted, Melissa Faith Cartoun and Kina Grannis grab your attention and scrawl their names across it in big letters

Talk about getting lost in a profession's crowd: try working as a female singer/songwriter, especially a young, unsigned one with a MySpace music page and a self-released CD or two. It's always a big kick when one of those women, with real promise, grabs your attention and scrawls her name across it.

Scrawling singer/writer one: Melissa Faith Cartoun, whose team of supporters sends out her debut CD, Rearview, while a formal web site gets built and preparations continue for release number two.

Cartoun has a natural fan base, an ample one, just waiting out there among smart, literate supporters of folk, country and country blues, adult contemporary and bluegrass-infused Americana. In particular she's going to win over the storyteller enthusiasts, plus fans of superior singers including Patty Griffith, Sarah McLaughlin, and Alison Kraus.

In these earliest years of Cartoun's career, melody and song length need her close attention. Songs like the CD opener, "Bleed In Vain," call for careful editing—using repetition to underscore the import of a critical story element simply doesn't work for this track, or most others on the album. The device adds playing time that relatively simple, delicate melodies just can't power up.

Still, it's to this woman's credit that one of the CD's weakest tracks successfully sets up much of the album's repeating imagery and most of its central themes. At the bone, this album takes on the paradox of emotional growth itself. As an individual ("Johnny's Blues", "Waiting for Something") or in a romantic pairing ("Perfect Ending", "If I Had Known"), only a disciplined balance between moving forward and learning from yesterdays lets people grow up and find the deepest joys of their lives.

As Melissa Faith says in the killer closing lyric for "Alison In Wonderland": "Dear peter pan in never land/ I hope your thoughts are sweet again/I've been trying hard to grow up and live the life you never had."

The magic belongs to the grown-ups after all, Peter, the ones tough and smart enough to bring the scariest of emotions into view and into words said aloud—or sung. Melissa Faith Cartoun sounds like the most delicate of women at moments; then, at others on "rearview", she shows how grown-up and tough she is ("I Can't Get to You" bites our romantic illusions and spits them out, more than once).

A promising MySpace citizen, no kidding. Ms. Cartoun has begun to make her road out of the mob.

So has singer/writer Kina Grannis. (Her first name is pronounced "kee'-nah"). The rock/pop/R&B/folk has a MySpace page and three self-released CDs, with a new album set for the fall.

When said album emerges, Grannis will be letting her fans know on MySpace—and Twitter, and Facebook, and iTunes, and YouTube, and eventful.com, and her personal web site (www.kinagrannis.com). On the latter, Grannis sells CDs, plus Kina Grannis tee shirts. All over her digital world, she posts home videos of new original songs, videos of new cover songs, video blog entries, and lists of upcoming appearances from coast to coast.

It can make you laugh, and it's also worthy of honest applause: Grannis may be one of the most wired unsigned artists extant. It takes a lot of work, attention to detail, and energized interaction with supporters, but she bears down and does it.

None of this online omnipresence would mean much, naturally, if Grannis's ambition stood taller than her talent. We got lucky with her: the talent towers.

At press time, Grannis's MySpace page starts with her mid-tempo, sly, addictive cover of Rihanna's hit "Disturbia." The video, so home-grown but so observant and sharp-edged, is a must-see. Says Grannis with a puckish little glance at the viewer: "I figured I hadn't gotten weird on you in a while, so..."

As good as Rihanna's version of this tune is, Grannis's might well be better.

More video/audio highlights: her covers of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and Beyonce's "If I Were A Boy" (another must-see video, where Grannis's shy streak has a great cameo), and the ready-for-hitsville original "Give Me Back". Each houses just Grannis, her guitar, that precise sense of rhythmic play, and that nuanced, rich-toned, high-alto voice. That's more than plenty.

Enough audio and video tracks are posted around Grannis's assorted cyberpages to keep supporters occupied until the new CD appears. Would it be better for Grannis, or her fans, if new albums came out on a major label? With someone so naturally able and eager to hop from genre to genre, it's tough to say.

Both Melissa Faith Cartoun and Kina Grannis deserve complete respect for the musical individuality they're working so hard to build. Only record labels that would honor those singular gifts need apply.

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Kina Grannis, "Give Me Back"

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Kina Grannis, "Disturbia"
'I figured I hadn't gotten weird on you in a while, so...'


Rearview by Melissa Faith Cartoun
Buy it at www.cdbaby.com

In Memory Of the Singing Bridge, Kina Grannis
Buy it at www.cdbaby.com

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Melissa Faith Cartoun at Banjo Jim's, NYC, 4-18-09
"No One To Dance With Waltz"

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Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
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