CD Review of We are One by Kelly Sweet

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We are One
starstarstarno starno star Label: Razor & Tie
Released: 2007
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To an entertainment writer, publicists can be sort of like mosquitoes – they're persistent, inescapable, and they all want a piece of you, but unless you're willing to lock yourself inside and miss out on all the fun, you have to accept them as a fact of life. And really, to be fair, they've got a thankless job: How would you like to spend your days coming up with pages and pages of baseless hyperbole for records and bands nobody's ever heard of (and will probably never care about)?

Take, for instance, Kelly Sweet, a velvet-throated thrush who has somehow found herself signed to Razor & Tie, the New York-based indie responsible for Kidz Bop (technically, it's probably a good bet that Satan is actually responsible for those albums, but he distributes them through Razor & Tie, so they deserve part of the blame). She's all of 18, but her press kit is stuffed thick with a lifetime's worth of hooey; her official bio actually begins with “You know the feeling – we've all had it. Chills run down your spine, and the hair stands up on the back of your neck.” The writer could easily have been referring to the familiar tingle of dread experienced by anyone who's read more than five of these record company puff pieces, but no, he's talking about Sweet's voice, which has been called “absolutely amazing” by noted musicologist Maria Shriver, and which will presumably, if given enough time, cure several diseases.

It's just about impossible to live up to this kind of crap, and Sweet doesn't, not even once, throughout this album's 12 songs. Which is fine, really, because even if she doesn't actually imbue her lyrics with “the uncommon wisdom of a singer who seems to have lived a thousand lifetimes in her short time on Earth,” she's still managed to craft an admirably solid adult contemporary pop record, one that's a thousand times better than it has any right to be. For a silk-smooth album fronted by a teenage girl, this set of songs has balls; Sweet flits between pop, jazz, opera, and Aerosmith's “Dream On” with equally surprising aplomb. Even if Norah Jones, Josh Groban, and Dido are not exactly “stylistically diverse,” as Sweet's publicist would have you believe, they do represent valid points of reference for We are One.

They should also go a long way toward telling you whether or not you'll be able to tolerate this album. Sweet's talented, no doubt, and these songs are very well assembled, for what they are – kudos to producer Mark Portmann for drafting guitarists Tim Pierce and Dean Parks – but at the end of the day, she tends to come across, more than anything else, like Celine Dion without the hard vocal edges and leathery, batlike skin. Your mother-in-law should love it, in other words; whether or not you will is another question.

~Jeff Giles