Free and legal MP3: Angela Desveaux (Kathleen Edwards meets Jane Siberry?)

“Sure Enough” – Angela Desveaux

Am I imagining it or does Angela Desveaux here sound like a delightful and rather precise mix between two of my all-time favorite Canadian singer/songwriters, Jane Siberry and Kathleen Edwards? (Yes, Desveaux is Canadian too; it’s Canada week, it seems.) I suppose there’s a chance my mind is being deceived by its own deep-seated personal preferences, but hey, I’m not arguing with it. This is irresistible stuff, to my ears.

The music is bright and clear, the tempo upbeat, but Desveaux has something beautifully bittersweet lodged in her vocal tone, which is probably what conjures Siberry here (though Jane fans should be sure too to check out how Desveaux sings the bridge, in a speak-sing-y sort of way, from 2:46 to 3:00). And while we’re talking about choruses, listen for those wonderful, down-shifting chords at the outset of the chorus, which accompany each return to the same melodic note (on the first syllable of “even,” on “though,” and on “know”). Note too the bittersweet metaphysics at play in the lyrics: “Even though I know I’m not sure where I’m going/But I’m going/I’m sure enough to know/It’ll stay this way forever/Stay this way for everyone.” The title itself in this context is nothing short of a life philosophy: no one can be sure; we can only be sure enough.

Desveaux was born in Montreal, grew up in the Maritimes, later returning to Montreal, which remains her home base. “Sure Enough” is a song from her second album, The Mighty Ship, slated for a September release on Thrill Jockey Records<. (Note that the new album was recorded by Dave Draves, who co-produced Kathleen Edwards' brilliant debut, Failer, with Edwards herself.) MP3 via Thrill Jockey.

Free and legal MP3: Haley Bonar (bittersweet, textured singer/songwriter pop)

“Big Star” – Haley Bonar

Rock’n’roll history is littered with singers dreaming of hitting the big time. That fame is in fact a double-edged sword is not something people usually apprehend until after they’ve been there (and then it’s kind of too late). Here, however, is a song that captures, in anticipation, the bittersweet repercussions of “big stardom,” both lyrically and–more memorably, to me–musically. My ears are struck throughout by an insistent sense of yearning, thanks to the major-minor chord shifts, the terrific and evocative instrumentation, and something achy and knowing in Bonar’s clear, sad-eyed voice.

Pay attention to what’s going on in the background throughout the song. Electric and acoustic guitars, backing vocals, and Bonar’s mellotron are woven together with a complex and rather dazzling deftness, and yet remain subtle enough that often you have to think to hear them. The ridiculously experienced Tchad Blake (Elvis Costello, Pearl Jam, Peter Gabriel, Crowded House, et al) is credited at the mixing board here, and no doubt he had something to do with the mysterious yet vivid texture that transforms this from a simple singer/songwriter tune into something deeper and richer.

Born in South Dakota, Bonar is based in Minneapolis. “Big Star” is the title track to her third CD, which was released in May on Afternoon Records. MP3 via the Afternoon web site.

Free and legal MP3: Jessie Baylin (smartly put together singer/songwriter pop)

Jessie Baylin

“Was I On Your Mind” – Jessie Baylin

“Was I On Your Mind” has the hallmarks of a great pop hit—hooks, craft, canny performance—and yet is unlikely to be anything of the sort here in 2008, just because who the hell knows anymore. The music market is as unhinged as the oil market. History teaches us, however, that craziness is always an aberration in the long run. There is no reason to assume that a song as crisp, well put together, and engagingly sung as this one won’t again find favor with the general public, but, alas, it’ll probably be too late for Ms. Baylin.

Fingertips, of course, exists in a sort of alternative universe in which what matters is the song, the spirit, the intelligence, the ineffable spark of human-to-human connection. So as far as I’m concerned this song is already a hit—an incisive example of how it’s really really okay to apply polish and know-how to songwriting, at least when such things avoid cliché and are grounded in a voice, both lyrically and musically, that’s feels real, solid, true. With her dusky alto and nimble delivery, the New Jersey-born, L.A.-based Baylin sounds to me, fetchingly, like Shawn Colvin doing a Sam Phillips impression; to the insistently upward, yearning melody of the chorus, she adds a textured presence that pretty much melts me. I like too how even in the context of this smartly produced number, little quirks can be found, including how the end note she hits repeatedly on the word “wrong” strikes the ear as unresolved, and how she breaks the songwriter “rule” of making the title the most repeated phrase in the song (which in this case would be “Tell Me I’m Wrong”).

You’ll find this one on Baylin’s new CD, Firesight, released this week on Verve Forecast. Produced by Roger Moutenot (Yo La Tengo, Sleater-Kinney), this is the 24-year-old’s second album; the first, You, was an iTunes-only self-release.