Barbara J. returns with her sophomore album A Box Full of Records and its three stunning lead singles – covers of The Korgis’ “Everybody’s Gotta’ Learn Sometime,” The Carpenters’ “Rainy Days and Mondays” and Poco’s “Crazy Love” (which features no less than Mike Webb contributing keys to the song) – and while these tracks are true to the classic framework that made them hits to begin with, they’re inarguably as original as it gets in this brand new, pointed execution. I’ve always been hesitant to embrace cover songs and have always struggled to appreciate records made up wholly of material written by other artists, but in the case of these tracks, it’s impossible for me to dismiss them as anything other than modern gems.
“Crazy Love” and “Everybody’s Gotta’ Learn Sometime” see Barbara J. putting all of the emphasis on the texture in the melodies that hold the righteous rhythms together, while “Rainy Days and Mondays” focuses mostly on her awesome delivery of the lyrics. In all three instances, she’s using the backing band to create as much of a mood as she is the stylish poetry in the songs, but each of these tracks displays a different approach to the recording process that, for all intents and purposes, Barbara J. would appear to have mastered.
These songs suit the style of her singing perfectly, and in “Crazy Love,” we really get to see what her voice is capable of when it’s given enough room to really spread out and cultivate a mountainous melody. The string arrangement is pretty conservative, but her vocal track is simply brimming with muscular bass and treble, cutting through the glowing verses with impunity. She’s come a long way since her first record, and I actually think that she should explore covering more material from this particular period in pop music history.
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There’s an immeasurable amount of emotion in all of these singles, and though it gives the chorus in “Rainy Days and Mondays” all of its zeal, I don’t think that the vocal ever becomes so intense in the big picture as to overshadow the instrumental aspect of these songs at all. Barbara J. is the type of artist who pays attention to the littlest of details in her music, and as a result, her releases never feel lopsided or inarticulately constructed. If her peers could somehow find a way to adopt a similarly disciplined attitude towards making a record, mainstream pop might not be in the inexplicably trite mess that it is right now.
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To say that it’s awfully hard to make legendary music feel as real and tangible as it did for the era of listeners who made it a classic would be an understatement of criminal proportions, but in the case of A Box Full of Records, Barbara J. makes it look all too easy. She’s on top of her game and dishing out some of the most sophisticated and sensuous melodies of her career so far, and if you ask me, there isn’t an artist around – in or out of her scene – making the deeper creative impact that she is at the moment.
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