For her first major outing Little Voice, Sara Bareilles puts forth an intimate, emotionally charged album that sounds remarkably polished for a fledgling self-taught songwriter/performer. In fact, her voice even stands up to professionally trained pop divas like Christina Aguilera. Her only potential downfall is that she fits so perfectly in the adult contemporary female pianist mold that comparisons are inevitable -- Bareilles' vocal range is similar to Fiona Apple and she bears a striking physical resemblance to a merged composite of Vanessa Carlton and Michelle Branch. Despite the plethora of comparable looking and sounding artists, she still manages to stand out. The songs are sultry and generally upbeat, and delivered in a soulful manner with polished production and arrangement, but her X factor is in her ability to make it all sound unforced and very, very easy. Unquestionably, she's a natural with a huge voice and personality that shine through with spirited energy here. Perhaps the best and most original track is the ultra-peppy (think "Benny and the Jets") "Love on the Rocks" (not to be confused with the Neil Diamond number). With a warm wah-wah guitar and meandering Motown-esque harmonies, it makes for a perfect summertime love song. Undoubtedly her expertise is writing love songs like this, evident by song titles like "Love Song" and "One Sweet Love," but there are enough uniquely spun takes on the subject to make it interesting. In "Fairytale," children's stories are used as a metaphor for escapism and dealing with depression, and with the moody ballad "Gravity," falling in love is compared to getting caught in an inescapable gravitational pull. In the latter tearjerker of a tune, she shows off her chops with a song-stopping vocal crescendo, further proving that she has a style that's something special, even among all the stiff competition.
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