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Music Review: Butterfly Boucher – Scary Fragile

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“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”

That’s how Muhammad Ali famously described himself during his prime time between the ropes. Now entering the ring … a living, breathing, walking, talking, singing … Madame Butterfly.

As in Australian singer-songwriter Butterfly Boucher (pronounced Bow-cher, without the French inflection), who’s in a fight of her own. Like many musicians doing anything to get heard these days, this charming performer, the middle child of seven daughters, is reaching out to promote herself and her stylized and sophisticated blend of fem-friendly pop-rock.

Her second album, Scary Fragile, was released on June 2, which coincided with her 30th birthday. How did she celebrate? By participating in a live web chat on UStream.

Butterfly Boucher publicity Not exactly the most glamorous way for a challenger to get back in the game, but Butterfly (the name was suggested by a family friend) is ready to come out swinging.

Eventually dropped by A&M Records after she and producer David Kahne delivered the follow-up effort to her 2003 debut, Flutterby, in January 2006, Boucher knows what it’s like to brush herself off and get back on her feet.

Scary Fragile contains breezy songs that do float and edgy lyrics that do sting, a contrasting collection of 11 tunes. Hard-hitting punches (“Just One Tear”) and quick jabs (“Keeper”) are countered with bob-and-weave moves (“Scary Fragile”) that nearly lull you to sleep. Most of them are about as long as a three-minute round in a prizefight. Only the referee is missing.

Even as the album opens with the zesty “I Found Out,” Butterfly takes a deep breath, planning to go the distance. And she nearly does, belting out, “I found out I can only be who I am / I can only do what I can / I won’t try to describe the relief,” as the drums pound alongside a booming bass and soaring guitars, all of which Boucher learned to play herself.

Butterfly Boucher guitar If only she could keep up the pace. The song takes a quiet turn (“I miss it when your heart’s not around / Please slow down”) before revving up again.

The rest of the album follows her lead:
• The intro on “For the Love of Love” sounds like a flock of seagulls, the real thing, not the cheesy Eighties group, and includes pounding tribal drums, blazing guitars and finger-snapping Forties-style harmonies (“Oh, I dooo; I tried, toooo.”)
• “Just One Tear” might be the best overall cut, a scolding warning to a cheating lover (“Say you’ll never do the same again”) as Boucher shows off her significant vocal chops.
• The lead single, “Gun For a Tongue,” is as seductive as Boucher’s face (luscious fuchsia-colored lips, a swath of blue over her right eyelid) appears on the album cover, but the words are just plain creepy. What’s a girl with “a gun for a tongue” plan to do anyway?
• The title track is a Debby Downer, a weeper with a simple message (“It’s scary to be fragile”) saved by its lush orchestration.
• “Bright Red” is disguised as a peppy Sheryl Crow-on-a-good-day pick-me-upper but its lyrics (“Help and throw me a rope / I think I’m drowning face down”) suggest otherwise.

Unfortunately, this uneven pattern throws a listener off balance, which might work better for a skilled boxer than a jill-of-all-trades entertainer who ought to  think twice about keeping her audience guessing.

Boucher is obviously a talented songwriter (contributing regularly to shows like Grey’s Anatomy, the latest “A Bitter Song”), an inspiring collaborator (she and David Bowie paired up for "Changes" on the Shrek 2 soundtrack) and a graceful stage presence, who proved just that as far back as 2004. During Sarah McLachlan’s excellent Afterglow tour, Boucher won over many new fans as the opening act, her yummy single “Another White Dash” receiving its fair share of attention and radio play. And she obviously has McLachlan in her corner.

The mastermind behind Lillith Fair, a touring festival of some of the best solo artists in women’s music (Crow, Emmylou Harris, Paula Cole), and other female-fronted bands (the Pretenders, Cowboy Junkies), is promoting Boucher’s release on her website. There, McLachlan has made available a live stream of the two (both managed by Nettwerk) performing McLachlan’s “Adia,” live on the 2009 Ships & Dip V cruise.

Until she wins by a knockout, though, rank Boucher somewhere between a middleweight and heavyweight. A Butterfly who can earn her wings if she puts it all together. By the time Lillith Fair returns in 2010, she might be a contender … or pretender.

Just don’t count her out.

• Butterfly Boucher is on tour, primarily in California, this month, and launched a residency at the Hotel Café in Los Angles on June 3 – her official CD release show – that includes two other dates. Check the Hotel Café website for details.
• For Butterfly Boucher news, videos, song clips and more, go to her MySpace page. She is scheduled to be the featured interview and live performance guest on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic on July 7.
• For a limited time, purchase an mp3 version of Scary Fragile at amiestree.com for $5, and download “Gun For a Tongue” for free.
• The contest has ended but check out Butterfly Boucher’s hilarious karaoke rendition of “Gun for a Tongue” below:

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