Lara Herscovich,
(La Rama, 2002)

There is an intriguing second album from talented New Haven, Conn., singer-songwriter Lara Herscovitch. An emerging artist with a growing following, she combines Latin influences with North American folk-pop sensibility. As a result, There comes from a very specific place, and that's the project's greatest strength.

Herscovitch is backed by a tight backing band led by co-producer Pierce Campbell on acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, harmonica and vocals. Also on board are Scott Petito on bass, John Peckman on drums, Michael Benson on percussion, Marisol Perez on cello and Dan Bonis on lap steel. Herscovitch accompanies herself on guitar and piano and has a graceful, relaxed and pleasing vocal style. Campbell has done a great job of giving the record a polished and professional quality without losing its individualistic edge.

The first track, the quiet and introspective "Para Siempre," is followed by the funny and catchy "Tequila Over Turkey" in which Herscovitch skewers North American holiday culture and chooses her own more authentic customs (tequila included). Other tracks are less funny but equally personal and reflective. Many of them ("In the Meantime," "Leave it in the Landfill") express dissatisfaction with the often superficial, wasteful and/or semi-conscious North American way of life. Also a social worker, Herscovitch has high ideals for her music (and donates a portion of album sales to environmental causes). Predictably, this can lead at times to over-earnest lyrics that could be seen as preachy; however, on the whole I appreciated Herscovitch's honesty and I found myself agreeing with her politics.

The combination of English and Spanish in the lyrics, and the Latin guitar influences throughout the album, give the project a personal quality that sets it apart. Many of her songs ("Fool's Gold," "Leave it in the Landfill") I would describe as quirky and somewhat wordy but often clever and personal in an engaging way. On the other hand, there are clues here that she's capable of writing more universal (and dare I say commercial) songs.

This is especially apparent in "Haunted Heart," which has beautiful pop-influenced changes and a very strong hook and chorus. The production on this particular track doesn't (in my opinion) live up to the song itself, but it's still an indication of Herscovitch's potential. The challenge for her will be to write songs at this level of sophistication that retain her very special individuality. I hope that as she develops as a songwriter, she continues to raise the bar for herself and insist on keeping the songs tight (under four minutes) and with strong melodies and choruses.

Another gem is "I'd Do Anything," Lionel Bart's song from Oliver, which Lara sings with three young boys (Zach, Liam and Max). It takes itself less seriously than most of the other songs and is simply produced in a way that highlight's Lara's expressive voice and lovely guitar work.

After listening to There I feel as though I know Lara Herscovitch quite well and that's a real credit to the project. It's all too easy for young artists to take out the elements of their work that make them unique; in Lara's case she embraces them. It'll be interesting to see where her music takes her. "In the Meantime" (to quote one of her songs), Herscovitch is going in the right direction.

- Rambles
written by Joy McKay
published 8 February 2003

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