CD Review – Rebecca Loebe “Circus Heart”
by Holley Dey with Louise Uznanski
The album opens with a love song, a sweet and soft come hither that builds to a crescendo to ask “Darlin, what did you do to my heart?”, and that ends with the simple, seductive tease, “And when…when can you do it again?” It’s the kind of song that turns on the ability of the vocalist to set the scene and convey the feeling. Rebecca does both, caressing the notes in a supple vocal that belongs to the intimacy of a Chicago nightclub with the lights turned low.
“Darlin” is one of ten tracks on Loebe’s new studio album Circus Heart, set for release on September 18 (Black Wolf Records). She is the sole credited writer for the nine original songs on the disc. These share the same charm and lyrical depth that kept 2010′s Mystery Prize on the Americana Top 40 Chart for nine weeks, and that led the Americana Music Association to name that release one of the “Top 100 Albums of the Year”.
On her third album, Loebe experiments with a variety of instrumentation. Keyboard, horns, guitars, toy pianos, bouzouki, hand clapping and knee slapping all contribute to a sound that leans more folk/pop than to the roots music of her earlier release. The clarity of the lead vocal, Rebecca’s cheerful and often playful phrasing, as well as her impressive dynamic range are among the strengths of Circus Heart. She sings easily in a pleasant, soothing tone with minimal vibrato and diction that is both precise and praiseworthy. While the longest held notes can lack texture, the vocals are of generally excellent quality throughout the album and highlighted by production from Austin’s Matt the Electrician.
Rebecca Loebe is a storyteller. The stories spill freely from this songwriter’s own circus heart, captured in lyrics that are thoughtful, reflective and often poetic. Several of the songs spring from her own experience and life on the road. ”Swallowed by the Sea”, for example, was written during and around the time that Rebecca was a contestant on NBC’s singing competition, The Voice. A touring musician who performs up to two hundred shows per year, Rebecca recalls the reaction of the show’s casting directors to her lifestyle. “….they were so shocked to hear that I make a living performing songs I write, at gigs that I book, drive myself to and perform on my own.” The first line of “Swallowed by the Sea”, “I have traveled many fathoms, lived inside a covered wagon, sold my secrets wholesale every night”, explains in fanciful terms the adventures of this traveling troubadour.
Rebecca’s original songwriting is the star of Circus Heart. The lyrics in particular impress for their creativity and intelligence; the melodies are consistently pleasing, if sometimes similar in tempo/construction. Less successful is the one cover tune on the disc. The defiant, devil-may-care attitude of Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” is lost when the rock sensibility gives way to a cheery, folk styled rendition of the song.
That same optimism is a better fit for the title track, a song of love and passion, and of acceptance. Rebecca has said that the following line of this song comes closest to showing “how I view myself relative to the rest of the world”. “All the women I’m afraid of are counting grays, like seconds ‘til the New Year of their glory days, carefully concealing their busted parts, trying to keep their eyes off of my circus heart.” Explains this indie artist, “I don’t want to be afraid to be who I am in this world. I want to take it on head first.”
There is no doubt that Rebecca Loebe is ready and capable of taking on the music world. Still in her twenties, she is a college graduate, touring musician, songwriter and determined optimist. Her newest album is yet another positive in what will surely prove a long and productive career for a fan favorite and fan supported touring/recording artist.
Circus Heart will be released on Tuesday, September 18 and made available for purchase on iTunes and at Rebecca’s official website. Please enjoy two audio tracks from the new album below, courtesy of Rebecca Loebe and Black Wolf Records.
“Swallowed by the Sea”