Monday, May 28, 2007

How Her Heart Behaves

When I reviewed her latest record back in February, I mentioned that I wish Norah Jones, with all that talent and allure at her command, would take more risks and attempt some edgier, more interesting material. But I guess it's okay to let Norah be Norah, as long as Leslie Feist is around.

On her spectacular new record, The Reminder, Feist (as she prefers to be known) easily outshines her more famous, multi-platinum contemporary as a purveyor of delicate, jazz-inflected pop. But while Norah's music has a certain, stately sameness to it, Feist flits -- and not just comfortably but commandingly -- from her own brand of dusky, late-night swing ("So Sorry" and "The Water"), to rambunctious indie rock ("I Feel It All"), to quiet Americana ("The Park"), to traditional, orchestrated pop ("My Moon My Man" and "1234") and soul ("The Limit To Your Love") without ever breaking a sweat. In lesser hands, such audacious genre-hopping could come across as gimmicky. But Feist either wrote or co-wrote every track on this record, so the overall impression here is of a supremely gifted artist at a creative peak, stretching her wings and reveling in the many types of music she and her talented friends are capable of producing together. (The record winds down with "Brandy Alexander," co-written with the incomparable Ron Sexsmith, and "How My Heart Behaves," a lovely duet with Eirik Glambek Boe of Kings of Convenience.)

In the end, though, what The Reminder showcases most plainly is that Leslie Feist has quietly developed one of the most gorgeous singing voices in modern pop music, recalling both Cat Power and, at moments, early 70s Joni Mitchell (two comparisons I do not throw around casually), but capable of summoning more power and stylistic range than either of those greats. It's a thrilling instrument to behold, plain and simple, and there seems to be nothing she can't tackle with it. That extraordinary quality, not to mention the 13 impeccably crafted and beautifully performed songs here, make this another early candidate for record of the year.

MP3: Feist - "I Feel It All" from The Reminder