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Image © Plain Jane Records 2003

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Image © Plain Jane Records 2003

(26 July 2003) Daughter Darling, a trio comprising Natalie Walker (vocals, lyrics, guitar, keyboards), Travis Fogelman (producer, programmer) and Stephen Fogelman (producer, programmer, dj) have released their highly-anticipated debut Sweet Shadows (Plain Jane Records (USA)783707725826, 2003). The final result is a luminous and breathtaking collection of eleven tracks that are moody, evocative and poignant.

The band openly admits their influences, which include trip-hop and female singer/songwriter artists such as Portishead, Sneaker Pimps, Poe and Tori Amos. And while some of the ethereal and haunting qualities of these artists shine through in Daughter Darling's work, the band has successfully developed their own unique style and sound that sets them apart from other acts in the "trip-hop" field.

While some of the tracks do retain downtempo percussion lines and the occassional dj "scratch," the majority of Daughter Darling's songs are imbued with a searing loveliness that allows the music to transcend the standard "trip-hop" label. This may be in large part due to Natalie's blazing and powerful voice and the fresh piano (JD Kinder) and stings (Daniel DeJesus) that are featured in many of the songs.

Natalie's voice, which sounds eerily like the marriage of Sarah McLachlan and Fiona Apple's voices, is one of the single best that we've heard in some time. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, Natalie answered Travis Fogelman's ad for a female vocalist to sing lead for a trip-hop band. Strangely, Natalie is a very devout Christian and Travis and Stephen are avowed atheists. After several attempts to move the album forward, Natalie almost walked away to pursue a career as a Christian singer. Fortunately, luck--or destiny--was on the trio's side. Like any good band, Daughter Darling's members had their share of creative differences. However, the various opposing forces that came into play during the creative sessions for Sweet Shadows have beautifully coalesced into something wonderful.

The soldily melancholy "Broken Bridge," is the opening track. Featuring a breakbeat percussion groove and whip-sharp piano, Natalie's voice immediately invades the listener's ears. Add to this some superbly well-crafted lyrics and the end result is an addicting and lush first track. "Shattered" is a deeply affecting song about suicide. Here, Natalie uses her rich and emotional singing to give proper treatment to the subject matter. The instrumentation is looming and dark without being oppressive. Track three is the Fiona Apple-esque "Let Me Speak." Throwing down some seriously "skanky" beats, Travis supplies the meat for the song along with his brother Stephen (aka DJ Infinit) who spices up the entire thing with some fierce scratching. And of course, Natalie sounds amazing in her moaning torch-singer mode.

The goose-bump-inducing "Absconding" is definitely a highlight. Relying soley upon JD Kinder's piano and Daniel DeJesus' cello, Natalie completely rips the ceiling down (vocally speaking) and proves that Canadian and European singers aren't the only ones that can unleash the otherwordly with their voices. "Mermaid" is an ambient/chill-out piece that winds steadily into the heart. Who would have ever thought that aquatic noises and ocean waves would combine so perfectly with drum-n-bass percussion? The funk-o-matic "Sad and Lonely" is a terrific piece, emphasizing Daughter Darling's ability to work within a more traditional jazz realm.

The folkie "Things Untold" compares favorably with Jewel's "Who Will Save Your Soul" in its contemplative and meandering style. "Voodoo Games" is the darkest track on the album. The story is about an individual who uses a voodoo doll against his former girlfriend. The music reflects the late-night, sinister quality of the lyrics. The innovative "You Won't See Me" is an interesting folk ballad with oriental flavorings. The Portishead influence is most strong in "Sweet Shadows" which includes some nightmarish samples and a jack-swing beat. Top-notch.

"Sweet Shadows" closes with a brilliant remake of the Kansas hit "Dust in the Wind." Although this may seem and odd choice for a "trip-hop" band, Daughter Darling actually improve upon an already good thing. The dreamy and introspective guitar rift (Jason Baron) is combined with a subtle drum track. What stands out, again, is Natalie's earthy and bluesy vocals giving this classic a truly commendable makeover.

Generally, the creation of the genre known as "trip-hop" is attributed to the British "trinity" (Massive Attack, Portishead, and Tricky) who pioneered the sound in the early-mid nineties. Since that time, numerous bands such as Mandalay, Goldfrapp, Sneaker Pimps, Alpha, Airlock, Lamb and Hooverphonic have taken the core trip-hop ideal and generated various permutations. Daughter Darling can certainly be considered equals in this pantheon. However, Daughter Darling have expertly moved beyond the formulaic in creating a debut that is emotionally stirring and musically seductive. In fact, it is fair to say that Daughter Darling may be the musical revelation of 2003. If this is the future of trip-hop, we are most optimistic!--Justin Elswick with Russ Elliot

Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the albumfrom amazon.comhere. Clearly with exploration worth a trans-Atlantic journey,this debut album by Daughter Darling is a must listen.

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