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Music Review: Ingrid Michaelson – Girls and Boys

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If you’re anything like me, you are sick of all female singer-songwriters hopping on the Norah Jones imitation train and/or singing their broken hearts out in depressing “why doesn’t he love me?” ballads. That being said, Ingird Michaelson is neither of the above and her new album Girls and Boys delivers a refreshing and smart burst of indie pop flavors.

Shockingly enough, Michaelson is not signed to a major label, but is already well on her way to becoming a force in the music industry. One of the talents to grow organically via My Space, she is one of the sites top ten musicians. If you’re not an avid user of the social networking phenomenon, you may not know here name yet, but most likely you have heard her music. She is widely known for her contribution to the soundtrack of Grey’s Anatomy, as well as having four songs on One Tree Hill and a Chevy commercial running in Canada.

Most recently, her song “Take My Sweater, Please,” is being featured on the new Old Navy commercial. But don’t let that make you hate her. Sure it’s Old Navy, a brand renowned for their annoying and crappy television advertisements, but it’s proved effective. Since the commercial aired, sales of her album Girls and Boys has rocketed from 500 to 4,500 sold and landed itself a place in the Billboard 200. And all I have to say is “good for her,” and if you’re a fan of quality music I think you will too.

I discovered Michaelson by chance when she opened up for Joshua Radin at New York’s Bowery Ballroom several months back and have since seen her perform a few more times around Manhattan. Brunette, glasses, dressed in jeans, she looks like the kind of girl you grew up with in your hometown or the kind of person you could hang out with somewhere unassuming and velvet rope-free. Basically, she looks exceptionally average. And then she sings and you almost have to double take to make sure that the sound is actually coming from her. That is the moment you realize that the word “average,” fits nowhere when describing her. She is simply exceptional.

Her new album Girls and Boys delivers Michaelson’s soft, yet powerful voice that calls to mind the likes of Regina Specktor and Joan Baez with the ability to engage even the most jaded crowds. The sound is buoyed by simple melodies played to perfection on guitar or piano accompanying smart lyrics akin to Ani Difranco in a mellow, less raging mood.

Although the main theme of the album is relationships, mostly failed ones, Michaelson manages to touch on varied emotions with an honesty that veers around the uncomfortable, get-me-some-prozac-and-Ben-and-Jerry’s-stat whining, and drives to the purely relatable. On “Die Alone,” a song bolstered with bouncy “ba-da-dum’s” she speaks candidly about a familiar fear that many women experience with a hope that she has finally found someone to love. Even “The Hat,” which discusses a relationship she had when she was seventeen does not sound cliché, but adds new dimension to a quasi-cheesy subject.

Most of the album however, cuts down the “girl loves boy, boy doesn’t love girl, girl has broken heart,” imagery and reverses the gender roles or at the least, places them on equal footing. “Breakable” provides the line for the albums title with the lyrics “Breakable girls and boys.” Yes, both genders equally fragile. “Overboard’s” opening lines “I could write my name by the age of three and I don't need anyone to cut my meat for me. I'm a big girl now, see my big girl shoes,” set Michaelson up as an independent women and go on to acknowledge her need and want to fall in love and “fall overboard.”

For me, the standout song is “The Way I Am,” an uplifting track that includes simple and joyous hand clapping that a live crowd can’t resist. The song manages to glorify both the feeling of love and the concept of self in a way that seems so impossible for many female artists who veer towards the prozac-inducing love ballads. How can you not smile when listening to lyrics like “I'd buy you Rogaine if you start losing all your hair. Sew on patches to all you tear. Cuz I love you more than I could ever promise. And you take me the way I am.”

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