Ariel Abshire: Exclamation Love

Not having heard Ariel Abshire before, I put on Exclamation Love with neither high nor low expectations. But my ears perked up a minute into the opening title song when her voice rose on “insides” in a way that revealed an unmistakable Patsy Cline influence. Though no one so young should be already tormented by unrequited love, the precocious seventeen-year-old (she's the youngest female singer to perform before thousands at the Austin Music Awards) demonstrates a maturity far beyond her years in the release's eleven songs. Ably partnered with producer Andy Sharp (who also plays guitar, bass, and keyboards), the Austin, Texas songstress tears into the dusty, Chris Isaak-like lilt of “Exclamation Love” and its world-weary lyrics (“Why don't you love me like you used to?”) with fearless gusto. She's got songwriting skills aplenty too, judging by the melodic hooks in “Goddamn New Mexico” (one listen and you'll be singing “I flew over your house today” to yourself for the rest of the day) and “Nervous” (ditto for the breathy “Truth is, you make me nervous”), which turns the lights down for a romantic paean to the conflicting emotions young lovers experience.

With its dreamy, downtempo vibe, “Thin Skin” steals not-so-subtly from Mazzy Starr but appeals nonetheless, especially when Sharp's electric guitar and Steve May's drums toughen up the song. It's telling that she cites The Smiths as one of her influences, given that one could almost imagine the group performing the throwaway “I Didn't Know People Could Do That” in one of its more tongue-in-cheek moods. Other influences listed on her MySpace page emerge—The Shirelles and The Ronettes, for example, in “Spots,” and Mazzy Starr “Thin Skin” and “Subscriptions And Lies”—while others, such as The The and Sugarcubes, don't—not that we don't doubt they're in there somewhere. The album's fleshed out by the breezy but lightweight pop tune “Unknown Encounter” and the ‘60s-styled “Spots” (its Phil Spector-like arrangement replete with “sha-la-las” and handclaps) while “Everybody Does” ends the set memorably with a dramatic torch song boosted by Elizabeth Warren's violin playing and an affecting vocal melody (“Everybody does petty things to feel loved”). It's hardly a perfect album—not all of the material's on par with “Exclamation Love,” “Nervous,” or “Everybody Does," for example—but Abshire's honey-dipped, Hope Sandoval-meets-Patsy Cline voice more than makes up for the occasional lapse.

November 2008