Xu continues her artistic growth
Reviewed June 2010
A Little Illusion
By Brenda Xu
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
At her first solo performance, during an open mic show at the now-defunct Hot Java Cafe in Carmel Mountain Ranch just over three years ago, San Diego's Brenda Xu already possessed a stage presence that belied her-then thin resume. With a rich voice, expressive delivery and confident manner, Xu had everything she needed to carve out a niche in the local music scene.
Within a few months of that show, she'd released her debut EP, "It's True." Producer Sven-Erik Seaholm's stripped-down mix highlighted her gorgeous singing, while the six songs showed hints of a quickly developing talent at writing thickly textured songs.
With her first full-length, "A Little Illusion," a switch to local producer Keith Orfanides (Kim DiVine, Saba) results in a densely layered mix that highlights all the little nooks and crannies of her latest batch of songs. It's more of an alt-pop sound than the first record, which focused on her folk leanings.
Hard to say one approach is better than the other, but the mix on the new record is the aural equivalent of turning up the contrast on a picture in PhotoShop. It's got a bit more pop to it, and you hear the details of the instrumental playing more. At the same time, Xu is a strong enough singer that it's not like her vocals are going to get lost.
Only knock here is that she's yet to show the ability to turn out the kind of hook-laden hit-in-waiting so necessary for breaking through to a national presence. Not that having a pop nugget in the quiver is a guarantee of success (see The Modlins or Northstar Session for evidence of that point), but the lack of one makes it tough to break out of the local scene.
Still, the utter confidence Xu displays as a singer, coupled to her natural gifts as vocalist, make the smart tunes here a wonderful listen, and will have fans looking forward to her next release.
Sadly for her San Diego fans, Xu is relocating to Seattle this summer. We locals can only hope for the occasional West Coast tour and regular updates on MySpace.
Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif., and was a contributor to the "Grove Press Guide to Blues on CD" (1993) and "The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Blues" (2005).