By Chris Moore:
RATING: 2 / 5 stars
Four years since her last album — seven since her last solo album — Michelle Branch has finally graced us with twenty minutes of new music. These twenty minutes are spread out across the six tracks that survived from Everything Comes and Goes (the album) to Everything Comes and Goes (the EP).
According to Branch, this is a “bonus album,” as though we should be thanking a professional singer/songwriter/recording & performing artist for releasing new music every four — or seven — years.
Not surprisingly, Branch has opted to work in the country genre, picking up as a solo artist where she left off with the Wreckers. And, as a testament to her apparent commercial value, her download-only initial release has been followed with a physical release, albeit an unimpressively packaged one, in some record stores. Her lead single “Sooner or Later” even cracked the Billboard Hot 100. In the meantime, ex-Wrecker Jessica Harp has receded from public life as a solo recording artist to focus on writing country songs, ostensibly motivated by fluctuating label support and in the absence of any breakthrough success.
So, Everything Comes and Goes is a survivor’s tale of sorts, perhaps to be read as a truth: some people come and some people go.
In the case of the Wreckers, Branch obviously belongs to the former.
No stranger to single-worthy material, Branch makes it clear through this release that she still has the ability, as well as the desire, to write clear, concise tunes, any of which could be coming to a romantic comedy soundtrack at a music store near you. The opener, “Ready to Let You Go,” may delve quite deeply into the country genre, Branch affecting the rural inflections that served her so well in her previous role as one half of that aforementioned duo, but this genre jumping is not so extreme as it might seem.
After track one fades, the remainder of the album leans most heavily toward pop/rock, with country flourishes.
“Sooner or Later” begins deceptively, subdued and acoustic, yet when the groove sets in, it becomes apparent that this is the same Michelle Branch that recorded 2003’s outstanding Hotel Paper. It may not be at the level of “it feels like she never left,” but there isn’t much rust to shake off. And the the country inflections work quite well here, subdued as they are.
The remainder of the EP slows down a bit, but retains its catchiness and simple beauty. “Crazy Ride” peaks with the wonderful harmonies Branch layered on top, singing all the background vocals alone for the first time since her major label debut, The Spirit Room (2001). “Summertime” and the title track are pretty songs, easy listening to be certain and notably underwhelming.
The sole cover, “I Want Tears,” was written by two members of her musical team, and yet it still begs the question: was it necessary to turn to other writers for this release? Apparently, the response to that question arrives in the affirmative, as there is but a single track — the title track — that is written by Branch alone.
This should come as no surprise. Branch and Harp co-wrote fewer than half of the songs on 2006’s Stand Still, Look Pretty, and Branch only contributed two others, one of which was a collaboration. To be fair, this Wreckers disc is a truly excellent record, although Jessica Harp (formerly the background vocalist/friend to 2003 Branch) contributes what are arguably the best songs, tracks like “Tennessee” and “Cigarettes.”
It is uncanny just how similar Harp and Branch sound on record, and yet there’s something to be said for Branch’s staying power as a recording artist. (Of course, it sure must be helpful having pop-hockers like John Shanks hanging around throughout your career, ready to stitch together a potential hit, a relationship that, at least to a degree, begs the question: how much of Branch’s music is really Branch?)
Regardless, all that is on and around Everything Comes and Goes amounts to this: it is a solid EP, and a disappointing release from an artist who first promised a full studio album would drop in late ’08, then summer 2009. The reality is a largely digital release of six songs. Call it an EP, call it a “bonus album,” call it anything you’d like.
It is simply not a release of the quality one would expect from a singer/songwriter who took the roof off with her underrated and underappreciated 2003 solo album.
Now, comfortably crouched under the Country cabin in the company of writers and producers very much in the habit of turning out hits, Branch’s work only hints at her individuality and potential. Let’s hope her forthcoming full studio effort Different Kind of Country — scheduled for a 2011 release, which could just as easily become 2013 — is actually a different kind of country music. I, for one, want something that is, for better or for worse, a legitimate Michelle Branch record.