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Reassure and reinvigorate

Joanie Pallatto - It's Not Easy
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Mar. 18, 2008
Joanie Pallatto

Review by Brad Walseth

Chicago singer, keyboardist and composer Joanie Pallatto has come up with charming new release entitled It's Not Easy. Gorgeously produced by partner Bradley Parker-Sparrow (with whom she owns Southport Records), Joanie's beautiful voice dances along over a musical soundscape played by some of the best musicians in the city.

Opener "Violets are Blue" is the true 'hit single' of the recording a romantic Brazilian-tinged number that reminds one a bit of the vein Sade mines so well. With lush production, the song features exceptional work from Howard Levy on electric piano, Eric Hochberg on electric bass and Alejo Poveda on congas and percussion, while the brilliant nylon string guitar of Fareed Haque nearly steals the show. A near perfectly constructed soft 'pop' song that showcases Pallatto's sensuous vocals, 'Violets' sets the stage nicely for the kaleidoscope that is to follow.

Showing a deft ability to shift gears, "Until I Touch the Ground" is a heartfelt and appealing song that highlights Pallatto's intriguing lyrics. Backed by John Devlin's guitars and delightful accordion, Pallatto reminisces about youthful crushes on the Beatles and meeting Cyndi Lauper on the street. A colorful and quite catchy song, the layered piece also functions as an intelligent meditation on the lifelong artistic quest.

Pallatto duets with the incredible Haque again on the quiet "It's Not Easy" where Pallatto's beautiful voice and picturesque lyrics are matched well with the guitarist's sensitive playing. Lest you think Pallatto only sings 'nice,' the 'scary' "Get to Heaven" features Parker-Sparrow's ominous piano chords, john E. Magnan's kinetic bass and all sorts of weird sounds from thumb pianos, violins and strummed piano strings, that serve to turn this 'blues' into a universal cry against injustice.

"24 Years Today" brings back the same crew from 'Violets,' and is another delight. This time Howard Levy plays the acoustic piano and brings his unique melodic and rhythmic bounce to the table. This music sways like a palm tree in a gentle breeze. Meanwhile, "Lonely Train" completely turns this sunny atmosphere upside down with its stark panorama. Perhaps influenced by Pallatto's small town memories, this is one of my favorite compositions, with Parker-Sparrow's gift for using memorable chords and painting with space adding depth to the sorrowful lyrics.

But no one can stay sad with the high-spirited and humorous reggae "Happy Life," or the extended jam of "Tickle, Tickle," which features the late Eldee Young on bass and Pallatto improvising vocals over the top. "A Love that Never Dies" is a lovely duet with Levy on piano and harmonica, whose pop leanings are shifted into another level by the sophisticated changes. The toe-tapping "Remember Me" ends the album on a bit of a bittersweet feel (possible reference to Alzenheimer's?), but it is another gem of a song.

This record is an impressive banquet serving up a wide range of styles. Pallatto is a singer who "feels" her lyrics (perhaps because she has written much of them) and doesn't have to strain for credibility. Her voice, although sweet, is not saccharine, dusky and darker-toned, but not rough. The production and use of programming throughout is very impressive, as is the musicianship. However, it may be Pallatto's intelligent and creative songwriting that is the star of the show. Recommended for more relaxed listening situations, like lounging on a deck in the sun or putting your feet up after a hard day: Pallatto's songs will reassure and reinvigorate you.

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