CD Review of A Long, Lovely List of Repairs by Amelia
Recommended if you like
Gillian Welch, T-Bone Burnett,
Norah Jones
A Long, Lovely List of Repairs

Reviewed by Michael Fortes


o read the title of Portland lounge-folk band Amelia’s third full-length studio album is to experience one of those “where have I heard this before?” moments. A ha! – it was Shawn Colvin’s hit from a dozen years ago, A Few Small Repairs, that’s responsible for the connection. But of course, Amelia’s title puts a far more positive spin on the idea of making changes.

In this situation, the roll-with-it attitude echoes some other past pop pare-downs. Though once a quartet, and then a quintet, they very well could have borrowed the ’78 Genesis album title …And Then There Were Three… and called it a day. Though again, it’s a twist on the Genesis story – where the drummer became the singer with them, here it’s the singer who became the drummer, or rather, a singer/drummer.

Accompanying these personnel changes is a more focused sonic template. Some of the jazz and pop leanings of the band’s last record, 2004’s After All, have been stripped away, leaving a warm, mostly acoustic, almost rustic Americana feel that would make T-Bone Burnett – master producer behind Elvis Costello’s King Of America and last year’s collaboration between Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Raising Sand – proud. And, just like Burnett with many of his projects, producer Mark Orton is an active participant in the sessions, acting as a fourth member of the band on the recordings and helping to create a consistent mood throughout.

Costello even pops up in the words to “Farewell,” getting a shout-out in exactly the kind of lyric he must have known was destined to happen upon appropriating his stage name: “Elvis on the record player and I sing / It’s Costello that I speak of, not the king.”

It’s those little details in the lyrics that contribute to the folky time-warp vibe – nobody but real old-timers call it a “record player” anymore, opting for “turntable” instead. And one can easily see the subject of “Dolores” being a quite elderly lady – perhaps already dead – with her porcelain bride, rotary phone, and phone numbers written on an actual piece of paper. Ah, the good old days!

Teisha Helgerson navigates the 12 vocal tunes here (two of the album’s 14 tracks – the ripe for film soundtrack-use “Thick as Thieves” and the moody piano piece “The End,” are short instrumentals) with a pleasant alto that’s equal parts Natalie Merchant and Norah Jones in its sometimes delicate, but always steady, presence. It might even be too much of a good thing at times – it’s all too easy to get caught up in Helgerson’s inviting sound, missing the stories in the songs along the way. Then again, that’s what rewind buttons were made for. Remember those?

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