Listening to singer/songwriter Malea McGuinness's latest effort, Close as Air, resembles a trip back to the '70s when folk, rock, and country singers like Emmylou Harris and Linda Rondstadt ruled the radio airwaves. Her strong voice displays her extensive training as a singer, such as her stint on Broadway in The King and I revival. Yet she needs more distinctive material that fully showcases her impressive pipes.
The first single, "Spinning," injects some rock guitar into her sound, giving the song a harder edge, while the organ lends a little soul to the overall sound. Too many of the lyrics are a bit trite on Close as Air, such as in the title track:"love's around us everywhere/some feel free to fly away/I'll be seeing you someday." However, some of the material provides some pleasant southern rock, such as "Movin' On."
The cuts that best feature McGuinness's nuanced voice are ones that combine country with soul, and contain sparse instrumentation. For example, "Tonight" is a simply arranged ballad that puts her emotional voice at the forefront. A combination of country and soul, her singing nicely conveys the quiet yet powerful lyrics about love. "No More," similar to "Tonight," effectively highlights her soulful vocals. "Crazy doesn't work no more in my life," she sings with passion. Other tracks would fit in with contemporary country radio, such as the catchy "Birthday Song."
But too many tracks sound like generic folk rock, such as "Memories." The bland chords do nothing to demonstrate how effective McGuinness' voice can be. "Falling" sounds like 1970s southern rock, but nothing terribly distinctive.
McGuinness is a promising artist that possesses a unique voice. But she needs to find material that best suits her range and will catch the ear, similar to Sheryl Crow's work. Close as Air does contain some moments, particularly the soul-tinged ballads. If she could connect with the right producer and collaborate with an effective songwriter, McGuinness could become a welcome presence in contemporary rock.