To most people, Vanessa Carlton is that kooky girl who played a piano while it was being driven on the back of a truck in her video for “A Thousand Miles”, her minor hit from 2002. To me, though, she’s something more: she’s also the kooky girl who sang backing vocals on Counting Crows’ cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”.
Okay, she’s done more besides, and her first two albums – 2002’s Be Not Nobody and 2004’s Harmonium – were a quiet delight, more in fitting with the modern AOR of Counting Crows and Third Eye Blind, with whose singer she co-wrote much of the second album.
By the time of her third outing (2007’s Heroes & Thieves), however, Carlton seemed a little lost. The record label hauled in Linda Perry (of Four Non Blondes horror) and the result was insipid, although not without moments of Carlton-inspired beauty.
A return-to-form on 2011’s Rabbits On The Run- featuring a new, dreamier sound – brings us to Liberman, her latest for Dine Alone Records, and a continuation of an exploration of song-writing as an art-form. Carlton’s latest collection is without the hook that first brought her to the dance, but what remains is more solid (although ironically more ethereal).
Rabbits On The Run often sounded like a woman finding herself – as much as a bunch of songs committed to vinyl, plastic, whatever can, anyway – and Liberman continues that theme, only now the woman has learned to find her place in the world, soaring above and dipping below the horizon, relaxed and confident.
The production by Steve Osbourne ties the album together, so much that it works best when listened to as just that, an album. A sampling of a track here and there will give you no more of an idea of the whole than a leaf does of its tree, and time spent with Liberman is time well spent.
Carlton may never throw off that first big hit, or being part of what many people (wrongly) consider to be one of the worst cover versions of all time, but like many of the millennium’s “breakout stars”, she’s still quietly toiling away making music that will enhance your life for its existence.
Liberman was released on Dine Alone records on October 23rd.