(27 December 2004) The opening track on Charlotte Martin's eight track debut Test-Drive Songs (Word Tree Music/Dreamworks (USA), 2002) is a wonderfully powerful piece of music. "Pretty Thing" begins with an hypnotic drum and piano figure and builds to a fine chorus and then builds even more with Charlotte really getting into the vocals. A great way to start.
The thing you notice straight away with the piano openings on both "Talk To Strangers" and "Lightblinde" is the similarity to specific Tori Amos tracks. That's not to decry them, just to give you some idea of how good the piano playing is on this album. "Talk To Strangers" unfolds pleasantly enough, but doesn't match up to either the opener here, or the Tori allusion. "Lightblinde" is a much better piece all round--more imaginative and with some interesting backing vocals and she again uses the spaced arpeggio chords that make such an impression on the opening track.
While Charlotte must be tired of the Tori comparisons, it's hard to escape them after listening to this CD. So often the piano opening to a song mimics not just Tori's style, but specific songs. There are vocal similarities too. On "The Girl I Left Behind" Charlotte even immitates Tori's breathy delivery. That's not to say that Tori is the only noticable influence, Kate Bush is there and so, on "Something Like A Hero" is Jane Siberry.
"Last Day On Earth" is another fine song and, for a while, is the most individual and hence least derivative piece on the disc, though the inevitable does kick in well before the end. Charlotte should let herself shine through much more than she does.
The songs are universally interesting with much to recommend them, but apart from the opener they fail to reach the consistent unimpeachable level of Tori Amos. Does this matter? Well actually, yes, it does, because if you happen to sound this similar to an established artist, either by accident or design, then comparisons are inevitable.
This is a fine disc in many ways and well worth exploring. And if you like Tori, then the chances are you're either going to love it because it's in a similar vein, or hate it as a blatent imitation. The album is available exclusively from Charlotte's website.