CD Review of A Good Day by Priscilla Ahn
Recommended if you like
Jewel, Norah Jones, Leigh Nash
Label
Blue Note
Priscilla Ahn: A Good Day

Reviewed by Michael Fortes

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B
lue Note hasn’t been strictly a jazz label since the early 1970s. Sometime around then, funk started creeping into their general outlook, as the jazz world grappled with the reality that it was no longer a major draw on its own. It had to add outside elements to its palette. Hence “fusion.”

These days, Blue Note has no issue with signing artists who have no obvious jazz associations to the casual observer. They’ve put out records by soul legend Al Green, quiet storm favorite Anita Baker, and even classic rock mainstay Van Morrison. Joining Blue Note’s prestigious non-jazz ranks in 2008 is L.A.-based singer-songwriter Priscilla Ahn. In a way, she does have a jazz-ish kindred spirit at the label in Norah Jones, who favors an easy, folksy sound tailor-made for the Starbucks crowd. Strip all the jazz out of Norah’s sound, and you have Priscilla Ahn in a nutshell.

Under the surface, the substance of the music is mostly all Priscilla’s own, as her debut A Good Day relies primarily on her own material. Whether it’s intentional or not, there’s an appearance here that she’s reaching for a broad audience, or that she really does have some diverse influences. She’s talking with God in the opening tune. “Dream,” to the tune of a quiet, finger-picked acoustic guitar. Then halfway into the record, the acoustic folk leanings disappear in “Red Cape” in favor of some light indie-pop with a put-on Irish accent a la Dolores Riordan. Then she gets all psychedelic in “Astronaut” with its reverbed, multi-tracked vocal washes and a swirling arrangement that – just like the rest of the record – never, ever gets too heavy.

But it does get semi-snarky, or at least it can be taken that way. “Lullaby” places some sugar-coated cynicism into mouth of sweet-voiced Priscilla: “This old library / Is 30 books and one dictionary / But that’s OK / no one reads anyway / They all watch TV.” It’s the progressive-minded bedtime song for new-millenium babies, one that would really catch on in an ideal world.

Choosing to cover Willie Nelson’s “Opportunity to Cry” also goes a long way in earning some points in the taste department. It’s given a loping chamber-pop arrangement with a touch of harmonica for good measure. While it all sounds really great, however, the one line where Priscilla sounds the least convincing on the whole album is the great one that Bob Dylan so brilliantly nicked a decade ago for his “Standing in the Doorway” – “If I saw you, would I kiss you or kill you?” The way she sings it, the former has to be the answer. And when she ends the album singing “I know it’s gonna be a good day,” it just becomes even more obvious that positivity is the winner. As it should be, in the long run, for that’s the kind of attitude that will go a long way toward winning over some new fans (and maybe even selling a few extra cups of coffee).

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