Too Human,
(self-produced, 2001)

The band Too Human, from New York, has released its second full-length CD titled True. With a strong folk-rock base, this duo incorporates a little bit of jazz and a little bit of the blues to round out their sound.

Too Human is Ellen Schwartz and Roger Bruno. Both were professional songwriters in Los Angeles whose songs, according to the promotional material, have been recorded by the likes of Cher, Pat Benatar, Teddy Pendergrass, Martha Davis, Angela Bofill, Anne Murray and Nancy Wilson.

Ellen plays both electric and acoustic guitars. She is the primary vocalist of the group and has been harmonizing since age 3. Her vocals are very reminiscent of Kim Carnes (of "Betty Davis Eyes" fame in the early '80s). Both artist have a deep, rasping, throaty style that sounds as if they started smoking a carton of cigarettes per day by the time they were 8.

Roger was apparently an "accordion virtuoso" (promo material) by the time he was 7. Since that time, he has expanded his repertoire to include harmonica, keyboards, percussion, whistle and the piccolo trombonina. He also provides vocals on many of the tracks presented on True. In my opinion, Ellen and Roger sound better harmonizing than they do individually.

Referring back to the Kim Carnes reference, "What I Meant To Say" is perhaps the best example of a song on True that I would have thought was sung by Carnes if I heard it on the radio. This is a pretty good song. I think most listeners could relate to the chorus: "When what I meant to say is how much I respect you/What I meant to say is how proud I am of you/What I mean to say is how much I love you/What I meant to say came out wrong/But it just came out that way."

"Sentimental" has the kind of bluesy jazz feel that Ellen's husky voice is perfect for. This song would fit in perfectly with a dark, smoky jazz joint. Both Ellen and Roger contributed to the lyrics in this song. I feel their strength as songwriters comes through. The song, as the title implies, is about the desire to be more emotional, the need to experience more feelings.

My favorite song on the CD is the ballad "Parallels." The viola takes center stage as the primary instrument. I have a weakness for the violin family and feel that these instruments touch my heart in a way most other instruments cannot. I must confess that I have yet to pay attention to the words as I am too focused on the strings. If you feel the same as I do towards the viola, I think you would like this piece, too.

Ellen and Roger are joined on True by Dave Mattacks on drums, Mike Rivard and Marty Ballou on upright bass, Marty Walsh on guitars, mandolin and bass, Deni Bonet on violin and viola, plus Billy Novick on sax and clarinet.

True is not a bad CD. Too Human is not a bad band. The songwriting is pretty solid. The playing is generally good. But I am simply not engaged by the vocals. For that reason, I will not say that this is a must-have for your collection. I will say that if you like deep, scratchy female vocals or some blues and jazz mixed in with your folk-rock, that you might check Too Human out and see how you feel. Perhaps the band will grab you a little more than it did me.

[ by Wil Owen ]
Rambles: 4 May 2002