Released a couple of months ago now ‘Coffee at the Corner Bar’ is a journal of love, loss and betrayal. Performing in her signature conversational style, Annie Dressner, together with a talented crowd of instrumentalists and vocalists, delivers a very polished set of songs. All recorded in her home in Cambridge, UK with husband Paul Goodwin at the helm, then mixed and mastered back in Austin, Texas, in her native USA. Several singles released ahead of the album have already enjoyed much airplay on various national and local BBC radio stations.
‘Nyack’, the album’s opener, fully exhibits Dressner’s fresh, crisp, clear vocal. Every word is expressed with clarity in her trade-mark casual style, with understated musicality. However, pleasant as it is, this perhaps results in a lack of dynamic that would otherwise stir passion and longing for the what once was that she sings about, but that isn’t easy to grasp with the matter-of-fact technique.
‘Pretend’, another from the album that has already enjoyed BBC airplay takes things up a little with its bold yet gentle mix of rock, and synthetic sounds as Dressner contemplates her love life over a “Coffee at the Corner Bar”. It is easy to see why this one would attract radio play with its lyrical, bouncy melody and of course again, Dressner’s relaxed, chatty technique. Another radio-friendly song is ‘Out in the Cold’ with its haunting, moving melody and some beautifully emotive lyrics; “At my feet, broken heart on the ground”. Yet, maybe it is the seemingly double-tracked phonic, or otherwise treated vocal, that sadly gives it a slightly mechanical rather than a totally natural, sincere feel.
The radio-played songs aside, however, three more are certainly worth singling out: ‘Midnight Bus’, a co-write with Matthew Caws (Nada Surf) who also features on electric guitar and vocals takes the song to another level with his sublime input in the last verse. AUK colleague Jonathan Aird skillfully described ‘Midnight Bus’ as “Shoegazey-folk for these Autumnal leaden skies and early arriving evenings” when he featured the single a few weeks back. ‘The Book of Love’ (Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields); fortunately, Dressner’s cover is more in the style of the Peter Gabriel version than the original, which, it has to be said, is somewhat of a lament. Dressner’s tongue-in-cheek approach to the song works although more dynamic may have given it more candour. For anyone interested in classical music, Milos and the 12 Ensemble do a fabulous instrumental version of this song too, which is well worth a listen. Credit really does need to be awarded to those who have covered this particular piece, for spotting and extracting the beauty in it.
Nevertheless, perhaps the highlight of the album comes in the form of ‘Look What You’re Doing To Us’. The sensational acoustic guitar and piano parts, courtesy of Goodwin, deliver the perfect backdrop to this very real-life situation. “And these rumours about the things you do, I don’t want to believe them, but where the hell are you?”
With Dressner seemingly channelling a certain Ms Swift, or indeed maybe it is vice versa, her signature conversational style comes into its own in this song, along with a relevant dynamic to add reality and passion.
Most certainly another one for the radio.