Inara George with Van Dyke Parks An Invitation

[Everloving; 2008]

Styles: orchestral pop, vocal jazz
Others: The Bird & the Bee, Madeleine Peyroux, Norah Jones

Light as air, yet heavy as lead. Intoxicatingly sweet, yet intimidatingly obtuse. Rooted in past music, yet probing for something never heard before. An Invitation is a jumble of contradictions that somehow manages to float above its internal tensions and offer a unique experience for the adventurous pop fan.

Taking a working break before the next Bird & the Bee full-length, honey-voiced Inara George has collaborated with longtime family friend and avant-pop genius Van Dyke Parks on this album that, though quite deserving of praise, is unlikely to gain her throngs of new admirers. While the music can best be described as pop, there's nothing even approaching a hook here. Instead, Parks' complex, string-heavy arrangements have a meandering quality that complements George's poetic approach to lyrics. There's little of the sharp wit and drive that defined "Fucking Boyfriend," replaced instead by a thoughtful, impressionistic approach. Even on the most story-like song, the bittersweet "Idaho," what seems like it could become the tale of two lonesome characters discovering each other's company ultimately offers no such resolution, just a dark reassurance that "Nothing is easy."

Indeed, most of the songs have a much more introspective and even less narrative quality, emphasizing imagery over form -- which is precisely why Parks is such a fitting collaborator for this material. These aren't songs meant to be locked into, hummed, or "understood." These are sketches and musings created by two incredibly talented artists expressing shades of emotion unattainable through most contemporary popular music. It's one of those beguiling albums saved for times alone, times when nothing else would seem quite right. And perhaps, for a lucky few neophytes, interest will be sparked by its sheer beauty, of which there is ample supply.

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