Michelle Branch is an American singer-songwriter who has enjoyed some success in the UK with her albums The Spirit Room and Hotel Paper, as well as her more recent EP Everything Comes and Goes. Despite her successful solo career, a few years ago she entered upon a collaboration with her friend, country singer Jessica Harp, and the two recorded a studio album under the name of The Wreckers. The album - Stand Still, Look Pretty - was released in 2006.
The album was not well known over here, and I only came across it via Amazon recommendations. I wasn't sure about buying it at first, as it was billed as country-pop rather than pure pop. I'm really not a fan of country music, but I'm glad I gave this album a go - it's really pop with a country edge, with a sound that will be largely familiar to Michelle Branch fans, especially since the release of her country-influenced EP Everything Comes and Goes.
The tracks on the album are guitar-laden, largely mid-tempo efforts, many of which have a strong narrative quality, a common feature (as I understand) of country music. However, they also have catchy pop hooks and effective harmonies from the two singers. Though I'm familiar with Michelle's voice, I can't always tell who is singing on this CD. The verse is normally sung by either Jessica or Michelle with both of them coming in on the chorus.
The first song on the album, Leave the Pieces, is also the duo's most successful song, and it won a Grammy. It is a simple melodic country-influenced pop song about broken hearts, a theme which fills much of the album. The Good Kind, which was also a single in America, is about a bad relationship while Tennessee combines wistful regret for a lost love with homesickness for another place. Cigarettes is one of my favourite tracks: the narrator muses on her failed relationships and wishes she could find love, but "until then I'll do just fine on my own, with my cigarettes on this old dirt road". Hard to Love You is another wistful love song, with a slower tempo than many of the others.
The most uptempo song on the album is My, Oh My, which is foot-tappingly catchy, and sees the girls singing about their carefree teenage days with nostalgia and regret. "Times have changed and so have I, I once was young and starry-eyed, now I have these bittersweet memories", goes a song that I can certainly relate to, as I see my own carefree teenage days recede further and further into the past! The subject of Lay Me Down is heartache, but it is pleading and angst-filled rather than slow and sad.
If I had to pick a favourite song on the album, it would probably be Way Back Home, an atmospheric, melancholic track about wanting to run away. Another strong contender is Rain, which has a bit of a rock edge compared to some of the other songs on the album, and a shouty chorus that reminds me a little of Kelly Clarkson.
It's not all about love. The title track is a melancholic guitar-tinged meditation on the pressures of fame, but written in such a way that I think anyone could relate to it. "You might think it's easy being me, just stand still, look pretty", goes the chorus, and I think we've all been in the situation where others are blind to the problems and issues in our own lives. Similarly, One More Girl is about being seen as "just one more girl on the stage, just one more ass that's stuffed in some jeans".
The album closes with Crazy People, which is the most stereotypically 'country' song on the album. Resigned and rather philosophical, it bemoans that "only crazy people fall in love with me".
Despite initial misgivings I've grown to completely love this album. I play it regularly and it's one of the CDs I listen to the most. The songs are all of extremely high quality; they blend together very well but are each individually distinct. Though I have favourites among the songs here, I like every track and it's one of the few albums I own that I can listen to right through without skipping a single song. I would recommend it to anyone who likes country pop, but if you've liked Michelle Branch in the past the album should also appeal. Five stars from me.
The album is available in CD form from Amazon.co.uk at a cost of around £15, though it is much cheaper from third party sellers. It is also available as a digital download for £7.49.
1. Leave the Pieces
2. Way Back Home
3. The Good Kind
5. My, Oh My
6. Stand Still, Look Pretty
8. Hard to Love You
9. Lay Me Down
10. One More Girl
12. Crazy People