In Even Sleepers, Boston-based singer/songwriter Leah Callahan revels in being an anachronism. At her best, she lingers in the space occupied by modern-day Tin Pan Alley enthusiast like Nellie McKay, and at her worst, she strives self-consciously for an Old World sound that unfortunately comes off as languid and ordinary.
The three strongest songs on this record are, not surprisingly, the first two -- "Valentine" and "The Red Eye," both songs in which Callahan borrows the instrumentation of several familiar Tom Waits songs and puts them to use as backing for her flat, sometimes fragile voice. Indie rock bands like Ugly Casanova have recorded entire albums with this kind of instrumentation, so why shouldn't Callahan, too? In "The Red Eye," she sounds like a 1920s rag picker singing in a machine shop populated by busy dwarves. The resulting instrumental arrangement is strange and unsettling, but undeniably interesting.
The problem with Even Sleepers is that the instrumentals are only interesting on a few of the tracks. Despite the press release that pins down Even Sleepers as an innovative recording and makes the somewhat offensive claim that Callahan is both goth and punk, the rest of the tracks on the album actually fall into the category of acoustic adult contemporary folk, plucked and strummed on a classical guitar, but ordinary nevertheless. Callahan's lyrics are short, conceptual musings that are pleasant, but not particularly deep, or at least not deep enough to stand out against the instrumentation, let alone shine on two acapella tracks. Callahan is a Broadway moll of the Nellie McKay ilk, but lacks the bravado to carry off the role convincingly on this particular record. (AL)
(self-released; Leah Callahan -- http://www.leahcallahan.com/)