Reviewed By: Malcolm Carter
Label: Risa Hall
Format: CD

Independently released on her own label, ‘Glass Half…?’ is the debut album from New York born and now Manchester-based Risa Hall, but the talented actress/singer/songwriter has been involved with music for many years. The twelve original songs spread over the album, which was produced by Nigel Stonier (Thea Gilmore, Sandi Thorn, Waterboys), take in a breathtaking variety of styles which isn’t so surprising given Risa’s experience in films, voiceovers and musicals.

It could have been all over the place of course; drawing on elements taken from all phases of her long career means that show tunes could sit uneasily next to Risa’s blues and jazz leanings and songs that reflect her pop sensibilities. It shouldn’t really work over the length of an album, but Risa has succeeded in producing an eclectic set of songs that flow very nicely together.

It all starts with ‘Can’t Take Away’ and we’re immediately struck by the power in Risa’s vocals. She certainly isn’t of the popular cutesy, little-girl-lost school. Here is a woman who sings from the heart and grabs your attention. That opening song shows Risa’s bluesy side and, as appealing, well-structured and brilliantly produced and performed as it is there is a feeling that if the following eleven songs are in the same vein that, unfortunately, despite Risa’s remarkable vocals we’ve heard it all before. Maybe not as proficiently as this but that particular song offers nothing new. Having said that, it’s the first inkling that Risa Hall is an outstanding vocalist.

Thankfully the following song, the poppy ‘Shooting Stars’ shows another side to Risa’s talents. Almost every song on ‘Glass Half…?’ is radically different to the one that precedes it and the album seems to improve with each song and certainly with each listen. Risa is one of those rare artists who are impossible to pigeonhole. On that opening cut we are reminded of Janis Joplin, Elkie Brooks and almost any other female singer from the last five decades who sang with passion and expression in their vocals. But it only lasts for that one song; then we realise that here is a unique talent, a singer who can handle, and seemingly handle with ease, any genre she cares to approach.

Given his past accomplishments I’m sure these songs are brought to life not just by his production skills but by the musical contributions that Nigel Stonier makes to each song. Along with co-producer Tracey Browne he adds the perfect sound to frame Risa’s outstanding vocals.

But without wishing to take any credit away from the sterling job the producers and other musicians make one wonders if Risa is one of those singers who would sound good no matter what she sings. Unusually for such a powerful singer there’s a certain amount of that very English purity that dominated the folk scene of the sixties and seventies in her vocals. On tracks such as ‘The Grail’ Risa mixes folk leanings, especially notable on this song by the wind instruments, with her other influences to create sounds that are totally unique to her.

Risa follows that song with ‘Candy Coated Hell’ which shows yet another side; this time by drawing from bands like the Ramones, which again is no big surprise given her musical pedigree, and while never losing sight of the melody it’s a major departure from the previous song.

The album closes with ‘Roses’ where the purity in Risa’s vocals really shines through, there’s no need for a lyric sheet here, the words ring out crystal clear, the lone violin weeps out the melody accompanied by piano and once again Risa’s vocals are first-class.

At the risk of repeating myself I have to say that this is one of the most eclectic yet complete albums that has come my way recently. It’s highly recommended for those who are looking for something a little different and which covers more than one base. With a voice like that Risa deserves all the acclaim that must surely come her way.

Malcom Carter’s review can be found at  http://www.pennyblackmusic.co.uk/MagSitePages/Review.aspx?id=7711