CD Review of Still Waters by Louise Setara

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Still Waters
starstarhalf starno starno star Label: Blue Note
Released: 2006
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Louise Setara’s husky vocals and piano-heavy songs – not to mention dark hair and demure good looks – are bound to draw a few unearned comparisons to her labelmate Norah Jones, but musically, they really aren’t similar at all; in fact, about the only thing they have in common is that their music is connected to jazz by only the slenderest and most tenuous of threads. In other words, purists who howled when Blue Note signed Jones, and subsequently broke the bank with her, will be even grumpier after they get a load of Setara’s Still Waters.

It takes a fair amount of chutzpah to take your stage name from what is, according to the singer, the Punjabi word for ‘little star,’ and more still to proclaim your debut “something different” even as you stuff it with cover songs – covers written, no less, by, among others, Dylan, Springsteen, Chaka Khan, and Bruce Hornsby. This is not a bad thing; it takes a certain amount of moxie, after all, for a person to get up on a stage and let people hear them sing. For all of this, though, Still Waters is disappointingly average.

There are certainly bright spots on the album. Khan and Hornsby’s beautiful “Love Me Still,” a hit for the duo off the “Clockers” soundtrack, deserves a strong, emphatic voice, and gets it here; Setara’s version of Springsteen’s “If I Should Fall Behind” is different enough to be original, but good enough to avoid blasphemy; and her cover of Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love” is thoroughly pretty. What they all have in common is that Setara didn’t write them. The singer’s co-written material, particularly the stock teenage-heartbreak number “I Can Hurt,” brings nothing to the table beyond her vocals. Unfortunately, aside from three or four well-chosen numbers, the bulk of the record runs to bland balladry – reducing even the great Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who make a bizarre cameo on “Sylvie,” to window dressing, and suggesting, ultimately, that while Setara may aspire to songwriter status, her true gifts lie in interpreting the work of others. Here’s hoping that, next time out, she’s able to wrap that voice around a more consistent set of songs.

~Jeff Giles