4AD, 2009

Chicago’s Anni Rossi has apparently built a fairy solid reputation on the strength of her live performances. Hoping to avoid the usual trap of failing to translate live shows onto record it seems that 4AD have attempted to circumnavigate this issue by employing Steve Ablini to produce.

There was a time when the credit of “Produced by Steve Albini” was a seal of quality, a water mark instilling confidence that no matter who was contained within you could be assured that this would be a release of both innovation and significance. Some of the greatest records of the last 20 years have bore his name and there’s still an excitement that he can raise a mediocre artist to “good” and a good artist to “great”. It’s with this in mind that we’re left thinking how in someone else’s hand this record would have turned out.

Now it’s by no way Albini’s fault here, or anyone else for that matter except Rossi. It’s a surprise to learn that she has been classically trained since she was knee high to her beloved viola but for someone who has extensively studied musical theory to only have a few half finished ideas as her debut album is really inexcusable.

Opener “Machine” sets out the only stall for the duration — folk pop melodies sung with her peculiar voice over just sufficient keyboards and passable string instrumentation. Can you feel the excitement? “Wheelpusher” is probably the only point where Rossi lets herself go unrestrained, and even then the only real difference between this and what has gone before is the execution.

It would be lazy at this point to mention the Joanna Newsom comparisons but after Ys it’s hard to hear the quirky nuances in Rossi’s voice in any other way. Where the difference lies is how Newsom creates another world, singing of fantastical figures in rhyming couplets that trip off of her tongue with a subtlety that is truly breathtaking, while Rossi sounds like she’s struggling to keep up with herself.

It’s always disconcerting when an artist chooses to record a cover on their debut album, so it’s doubly disappointing to hear Rossi’s attempt to inject new life into a song. “Living Danger”, previously recorded by Ace of Base (yes that Ace of Base) is her misjudged attempt to stamp her personality over what was previously a pure pop song. It misses its mark by a country mile and is indicative of what is Anni Rossi’s main problem and that is of only having one idea. The songs are passable enough and Rockwell isn’t without its redeeming features but they are just too far between. And for a record that comes in at under 25 minutes that’s just not enough.