5/10 Back with her first new album since 2008’s charming holiday record A Very Rosie Christmas, Rosie Thomas teams up once again with long-time collaborator Sam Beam (Iron & Wine) plus members of Sufjan Stevens’ band on With Love, a record she describes as being “focused on the central theme of love and its transformative powers.” Written variously in Los Angeles, Nashville, and at her grandfather’s Kansas farm during a tumultuous period of personal ups (she got married) and downs (she was struck down with a debilitating thyroid problem), With Love finds producers David Bazan and Blake Wescott (The Posies) carefully crafting a soft, romantic setting in whichThomas’s undeniably pretty songs are couched. The immediate impression is of music that simply glows from the speakers, but as the album’s ten songs waft by one by one the effect rather loses its appeal.
Opener ‘Where Was I’ starts off winningly with a gorgeous, soft-focus folk-jazz hybrid, all warm guitar/piano interplay with occasional electric piano flourishes, in which Thomas’s familiarly pleasant vocals prove adept at mapping the various melancholy twists in the melody. The rest of the album, however, simply doesn’t live up to the promise of the outset, neither in terms of atmosphere nor in melodic invention. It’s a case of diminishing returns as each song stocks up heavily on cloying sentimentality and inconsequential melodies. ‘Over The Moon’ boasts effective harmonies with Sam Beam on backing vox and a simple, upbeat feel, but seems to meander without purpose. A similar fate befalls the Sarah McLachlan-esque ‘Like Wildflowers’, which feels as though it is gradually building towards a sweeping, wonderful chorus that sadly never comes; that said, the attractive, fluid piano lines here provide one of the album’s more memorable highlights.
Less impressive is ‘Two Worlds Collide’. Instead of communicating the genuine frustration that Thomas must have undoubtedly felt, lines like “I cried on my birthday / was broken to pieces” are delivered in the manner of something better suited to a soap opera soundtrack for a teenage breakup. The bluesier ‘Back To Being Friends’ offers a welcome change of mood, but the soulful piano work is almost undone by a limp melody and a vocal performance that lacks any kind of nuance. With Love is more effective in its more stripped-back, intimate moments. The acoustic guitar-led ’2 Birds’ finds Thomas basking in the beauty of memories (“We tape recorded things / tied ribbons around trees to find our way back,” she sings over an atmospheric yet breezy backing track), while the slow, piano-based cover of Tim Miser’s ‘Sometimes Love’ is gorgeously simple and starkly affecting.
Rosie Thomas has always been prone to occasionally precious lyrics, but her previous three albums (her festive release notwithstanding) have, for the most part, been suitably charming and earnest to excuse such proclivities. Charm and earnestness aren’t missing from With Love, but the overly tasteful production too often steers Thomas’s already easy-on-the-ear style into disappointingly inspid territory. Rosie Thomas is a talent, and she hits the mark perfectly on a few occasions here, but With Love as a whole plays things terribly safe.
Tagged rosie thomas