Cleveland Lounge, 1996
So while I'm technically talking about this one album by the band Cleveland Lounge, I'm really talking about the sublime singer Zoe Ellis. I've been listening to her sing all my adult life (and, as I believe I'm mentioned before on here, I'm kinda old), and she's never been anything less than a pure unalloyed wonder. Her tone is raw silk dragging over your forearm, her delivery full of passion and depth, her singing style just always right - somehow more divine by being so rooted to the earth.
I never got to see her perform with this band Cleveland Lounge - apparently they weren't together all that long. I have heard her perform a couple of the songs in other settings, though, and the album does a very nice job of featuring her voice. There's a certain sameness to a few of the tunes; they have that "quiet storm" radio-ready feel. Great musicianship, well thought-out arrangements, just nothing too raw or exposed here. "Drowning" (the only song available now, as a single on itunes) is the signature song, full of all the operatic grace and emotional realness I associate with Zoe Ellis - really nice vocal counterpoint at the end too. "Mood Swing," another favorite, has a stripped-down minimalist arrangement, and her voice is hushed, warm, and sort of clipped in places - perfect evocation of the lyrics, which are about the ease of slipping from love to obsession. "Someday" has a more upbeat, hopeful sound (almost, but not quite, ruined by the lame keyboard stabs on the verses), with the beautiful ascending lines you don't find often in pop music. And "Need to Know" is the closest to purely rocking out that can be found on this album.
Really amazing stuff. If you live in the Bay Area, you simply must listen to this singer live at every opportunity. If you don't, and you can get your hands on this album, at least you'll get a taste.