STEPHANIE FAGAN – HEART THIEF
2011 – Yonder Music
This excellent album was actually released at the tail end of last year but only came into my possession recently, geting the full review treatment thanks to the future promise it holds and the large degree of individuality that Stephanie possesses in her vocals and style. Whilst the album content is not hugely original, that just mentioned individuality actually does separate her from much of the rest of the field in this loose rootsy singer songwriter genre. She has a very listenable style that repays repeated listening sessions and she imbibes a strongly reflective atmosphere on each song, almost as if they all come from her life experiences and she is just musing on the way love takes us
all on twists and turns.
The design on the album cover is a total contrast to the music held within. Looking at it in a rack would give the impression that this is a real ‘good ol’ country girl’ album but, whilst this is obviously aimed at a particular market, it does Stephanie a disservice. The album certainly has much
of it’s roots in country and perhaps to a lesser degree in folk music, but there is also at times a distinct bluesiness and occasionally a slightly jazzy feeling.
The songs are all built around various aspects of love, such as the comfort of requited love, unrequited love, being in love with a two timer and being strung along, all done with conviction, thanks to the tremendous playing of her supporting studio musicians and Stephanie’s beautifully expressive vocals, allowing the listener to feel sympathy for the characters who, at times, just can’t seem to help themselves. Much like real life really! It is an album that is not heavy on instrumentation but always has enough to give variety but at the same time allow Stephanie’s beautiful vocals and the stories plenty of space to breath and create an impact. It could be that given a chance and time her vocal style will be as recognizable as someone such as Joni Mitchell as she seems able to conjure up a terrific depth of feeling on any style or tempo that she chooses.
The songs are all written by Stephanie on this, her second album, and whilst I’ve yet to hear her debut, I’m pretty sure it will be well worth seeking out. The tempos range from slow to mid and from love struck ballads to something approaching mid tempo country rock, all played with exceptional skill and with Stephanie’s vocals expressing the strong emotions contained within. Each
subsequent listen to this album seems to give it more appeal, not necessarily because of the strength of the writing, although it is very good, but more because of Stephanie’s lovely vocal style that bears vague similarities to several other singers whose names I can’t quite grasp, but without actually
sounding exactly like any of them! The album opens with New Tattoo a pleasantly slow and reflective song about love that if not actually lost is very close to it, immediately followed by a beautiful mellow sounding song about being helplessly in love, Writers Block. Blow has a slightly jazzy feel with some nice piano and moodily atmospheric trumpet on a slightly unsettling tale about cold heartedly stringing lovers along, following which is Prodigal a tremendous blues song with a brilliantly played and hugely atmospheric dobro accompaniment on a sad tale of lost love that really gets a lovely depth of feeling from Stephanie’s vocals. Despite most of the songs being of a similar tempo there is a nice
variety in the styles and instrumentation that avoids any saminess. There is some nice tasteful banjo playing as well as excellent steel guitar, emphasizing the country/folk roots and right in the middle of the album the tempo is lifted by Boy Who Doesn’t Exist,a nice mid tempo country rocker with haunting steel guitar on a sad song of someone taken advantage of in love, followed by the easy loping ‘pure’ country,The Diner Song, a lovely steel guitar led tale about working and drinking too
much to try and forget a lost love.
This is a really good album of reflective songs built around various aspects of love, but what lifts it above average is Stephanie’s lovely distinctive vocals. Add this to her excellent songwriting and ability to construct some catchy melodies and we can look forward with optimism to her next album, and the next ……. !