Christine Moll,
Pretty Show
(Giant Cricket, 2000)

Eventually, you have to stop listening to the CD and actually write about it. I've had a hard time doing this with Christine Moll's Pretty Show. When it's not playing in one CD player or another, it's playing in my head. We sometimes get music to review that's on the fringe of our comfort zone. This offering is solidly in the middle of what I typically listen to and seek out. It has earned a permanent place in my rotation among better known artists such as Sarah McLachlan and Natalie Merchant, both of whom Christine has been compared to. So, before getting into the details, let me say that I enthusiastically recommend this work to all "girl music" aficionados.

The instrumentation on Pretty Show is pretty typical of folk-rock bands, but it works atypically well on this CD. As expected, Christine accompanies herself on acoustic guitar. Brother and producer Mark Moll adds piano, organ and both electric and acoustic guitar. The rest of the band consists of Tony Caruso on electric guitar, John Cannon on drums, Anthony Mauriello on bass and Jackie Baxter on a slew of percussion. The arrangements and mixing are excellent. The band is an integral part of each song, rather than just an accompaniment to Christine's lovely, emoting voice. The instrumentation is always just right for the mood of each song -- never overpowering, always flattering to Christine's lead vocals. The same can be said for the backing vocals of Mark and Tony.

Christine wrote all of her own lyrics on Pretty Show and either wrote or co-wrote with Tony all of the music. Her lyrics are very personal but not so cryptic as to alienate the listener. I found her music very engaging in the sense that, when it's on, you are compelled to listen. She has blended elements of folk, rock and pop to come up with a group of songs that is diverse, passionate and enjoyable.

My inclination is to describe in detail every one of the ten tracks on this album. However, because I would run out of superlatives, I'll try to limit myself to my favorite three. The first track, "In the Rain," is a perfect introduction to Christine's voice and excellent songwriting. The song is dedicated to the memory of a woman who died at age 23 and tells of how difficult it is to "believe that she won't be back." The minor chords on the electric guitar and finger-picked countermelody on the acoustic, along with the gentle piano, sets such a melancholy mood that it's impossible not to get caught up in this one. Christine backs up her own vocal lead with soaring tones that sound like cries in the distance. Every time I play this I lose six minutes of productive time.

Another wonderful song is "No Fires." The subject here is a tumultuous relationship that has ended. The speaker has gotten over it and gone on saying, "...all these fires that were raging/they've all burned out along the way." This song has a simple melody that wholly expresses the regret and relief that comes with the subject. The far-away sound of Tony's backing vocals is like another instrument, complementing Christine perfectly. In the "Hope Song," we get to hear a little of the rock side of this band. Skillful electric guitar work and edgier vocals make this uptempo song a stand out. I'll stop here, but there is not a bad track on this CD. It is 42 minutes of good stuff.

I'm often amazed at the talent and hard work of regional singer-songwriters and their bands. Philadelphia and the rest of the northeast are lucky to have Christine Moll. Based on Pretty Show, she has the sound and songwriting talent to make it in the bigger world of eclectic girl singers. Encore and good luck!

[ by Valerie Fasimpaur ]
Rambles: 16 March 2002