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Music Review: Amelia – A Long Lovely List of Repairs

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Once I took a job in a small jazz club. While the half price food was great, I really took the job for the music, for the endless stream of obscure bands flowing through on their way from Seattle to San Francisco. I quickly found out that three quarters of those shows should be worked with earplugs-and this was not because the volume was up too high.

But what kept me at the club year after year was that one out of four bands that pulled up and set up, also blew me away. Amelia was one such band. Over the years, while the ensemble that brought belly dancers was hard to beat for sheer entertainment, Amelia became the show that I never missed.

Amelia hails from Portland, Oregon where they have been concocting their extraordinary music for about 6 years. The versatile talents of the three members, Teisha, Scott, and Jesse, produce music that incorporates so many styles — jazz, folk, swing, Flamenco, French and southern — that I don’t quite know how to peg it.

You’ll hear strings, tambourine, piano, slide guitar and Teisha’s incredible voice, one moment softly reminiscing about the nickels that slip through the cracks of a childhood couch, and the next belting out “Misery loves gin…to wash down all the vodka.” The deeply moving music is perfectly suited to a small, dimly lit club. One should always sit as close to Teisha as possible. She perfectly accentuates each melodic nuance with a pout of the lips or a dip of the shoulder. Though the rest of the band provides the skilled and eclectic backdrop, it is Teisha who steals the show.

I grew spoiled on Amelia’s incredible live performances. Switching to the album when I switched jobs was initially disappointing. I did enjoy my first buy, After All, because I could picture the songs live. But it always remained just an echo, albeit a good one, of the concert. I was anxious to give some new Amelia a fresh chance and see if my initial enthusiasm could be rekindled without the live associations.

The band’s latest album, A Long Lovely List of Repairs was released this spring and delivers the same musical amalgamation that distinguishes the two previous albums. The mood of the album might invoke first a gypsy camp, then a dusky Oregon meadow, then a café on a Bayou in the deep South.

Pervading every song is a simple and soulful elegance. The lyrics employ imaginative imagery (“I’ve got your quicksand kisses ever on my lips…”), without ever descending into either pretentious obscurity or simplistic clichés. Rotary phones, record players, white ships and similarly quaint images figure into a dreamy, yet genuine portrayal of life and love. But I found that even without memories of the songs live spoiling by comparison, A Long Lovely List of Repairs is still an echo of what I know the band to be capable of.

In concert, the execution of the solid music and lyrics lacks nothing; you know you’ve stumbled upon a flawless performance. But digitally the recording lacks…Teisha. Her vocals sound stunted, even if you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing them live. One gets the impression that she wants to belt it out, but for some reason holds back her powerful voice.

The band backs her well; their notes are generally lively and well timed, though some of the slower swinging rhythms that read so well in a small venue might be stepped up a bit for the stereo. But fundamentally it is Teisha and her unrestrained, soaring voice that I miss on the recording.

A Long Lovely List of Repairs is undoubtedly worth your money. As a group Amelia writes beautiful music and performs it well. The difference between a breakthrough album and really good background music could just be a matter of unleashing Teisha’s voice, a small issue I hope they remedy on their next album. And I will keep buying their albums, especially so that I can hum along at the shows.

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About Sarah C. Culver