Singer/songwriters such as Carrie Biell contend with stereotypes before they even come out of the gate. I recognize that because I’m a part of it. Confronted with reviewing her new album We Get Along, I thought to myself, it will be a set of songs long on acoustic guitar, great singing, good lyrics, and short on anything resembling bite. It doesn’t matter if I am right. The point is that my preconceived notions shaped my response to the songs from the outset.
Some may say any work of art labors under the participant’s preconceived notions from the outset. Yes, they do, but they are unique in each instance. I’ll untangle this by taking the songs at face value. Her new album We Get Along begins with the track “Come By”. Clear, overwhelming influences are virtually undetectable in Biell’s songwriting. She’s an outstanding example of how a songwriter takes a little from everything that affects them and subsumes it into their own sensibilities to produce an individual style.
“Come By” has a familiar frame of reference. There’s nothing cutting edge or left field about the subject matter, but Biell fills the song with several musical and, especially, lyrical turns that are distinctive rather than imitative. The transformative power exerting its influence over this song and others is Biell’s heart and soul manifested in her voice. “Come By” makes it abundantly clear this is a vocalist engaged with each word.
Listen to We Get Along below
I’ve listened to “See Through the Trees” several times and still find something new in it every play. I do believe pulling back on the multi-tracked vocals a little improve an already outstanding song but understand what effect she tried to achieve by going in such a direction. Her folk influences come across here, but there’s more than one style present in her approach. There’s a lot of regret in her songwriting but tracks such as “Better Part of Monday” make it clear that she’s derived important lessons from those moments. The acoustic guitar playing is a highlight, but the near-ghostly organ accompaniment plays an underrated role in shaping the song’s sound.
“We Get Along” and “California Baby” are the album’s best songs. Biell seems to be reaching for some sort of stylistic union between folk, pop, and even country on occasion and finds the purest expression of her goals with these tracks. The title song is my favorite of the pair thanks to the great drumming and the stellar musicianship backing another excellent Biell vocal. “California Baby”, however, is no slouch in comparison. The driving acoustic guitar riff never pushes on listeners too hard and adding piano as its musical counterpoint brings a light melodic touch to the track.
The finale “Gravity Pulls” opens with exquisite guitar work and it continues making an important contribution for the remainder of the song. The ending is a little diffuse for me, I would have preferred something a little more grounded rather than ethereal. It returns us to the subject opening this review. Carrie Biell’s We Get Along doesn’t shy away from conforming to my expectations. It isn’t something this, or any other artist, can do anything about. Her calling is simply to get on with the work and she does so beautifully with this fantastic release.