Friday, May 13, 2011

Album Review: Victoria Banks - Never Be the Same

Never Be the Same, the second studio album from Canadian singer-songwriter Victoria Banks, includes a fair helping of delicious slices of pop-country, kicking off with the charming opener “Come On.” It’s about as simple a song as its title leads us to expect, but with an uplifting melody, a cool fiddle-laced arrangement, and a competent lead vocal delivery, the sum of its parts make for an enjoyably breezy contemporary country love song.

The track “Jackson” might have you expecting a cover of the well-known Cash classic, but it’s far from it. It boasts the most attention-grabbing opening line of any song on the album – “It’s a long way back to Jackson in a beat-up Cadillac/ With a Bible on the floorboard and a body in the back.” The absorbing story-song is easily the most striking track on the album. It reaches a climax in the bridge after the second chorus, when Victoria’s character sneers at the ineffective justice system, and opts to take things into her own hands – “There was never any crime, ‘cause there wasn’t no proof/ But a big sister always knows the truth/ So when he gets home tonight, I swear I’ll make things right/ I’ll be waitin’ inside with a forty-five.”
Title track “Never Be the Same” is sonically interesting thanks to Victoria’s nuanced lead vocal, but the song is lyrically unfulfilling, leaning upon the crutch of laundry-list songwriting. It touches on a number of life experiences the narrator has had, with her simply concluding that she “will never be the same.” On the song “Somebody Does,” Victoria visits similar lyrical territory to that of the recent Sugarland hit “Little Miss,” in which a narrator offers comfort and encouragement to a downtrodden companion. It’s a solid concept, but the lyrics seem to call for a little added specificity, with the hook “Right now you think nobody cares, but somebody does” seeming hollow and vague.
Never Be the Same is clearly not an album without its faults, with lyrics that don’t often scratch below surface level. Even on the strongest songs, layers of production often act as an unnecessary distraction. A primary example is the rather awkwardly-constructed empowerment anthem “Barefoot Girl,” which extols the joys of pick-up trucks and torn-up jeans, while the heavy beat and thumping production would seem more at home in the “high-rise high heels world” that the narrator rejects. The trait re-surfaces in the spousal abuse tale “Remember That, written by Victoria with Rachel Proctor, which appeared on Jessica Simpson’s 2008 country album Do You Know. Victoria’s performances sounds a degree more invested in the lyrics than Jessica’s, but her sincerity is undermined by an overwrought arrangement. The arrangement threatens to detract from the fact that “Remember That” ranks among the album’s strongest lyrics, in which a woman addresses an abused victim in a manner that is gentle, sympathetic, and not at all condescending.
As a whole, Never Be the Same includes many of the building blocks necessary to construct a great album, but they sometimes wind up scattered hither and thither with needless clutter falling in between. Still, the album has its share of great moments demonstrating the magic that can happen when all of the pieces fall into alignment.

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)