Beth Thornley couldn’t escape the allure of rock ‘n’ roll. Raised in Birmingham, Ala., by two classical musicians, the now-L.A.-based singer/songwriter grew up submerged in the pristine sounds of Beethoven, intrigued by the “fantastic gospel music” heard each Sunday on the radio, and attracted to the old Southern sounds of shape-note singing. Although a musical path was already paved for her, Thornley decided to forge her own.
Thanks to Beth Thornley, the lobby of Keyboard’s San Mateo offices never sounded better. Along with her bandmate, producer, and husband Rob Cairns, the piano-centric singer songwriter performed a killer in-house concert for members of the entire Music Player Network with August and collectively blew us away. “Beatles meets Ben Folds meets Death Cab for Cutie,” is how Beth describes her own music, although we also heard tantalizing hints of Aimee Mann and Garbage in her well-crafted songs.
If you like “smart pop” a la Aimee Mann, Sam Phillips or Brandi Carlile, you owe it to yourself to check out this CD – plug, you gotta love a girl who plays accordion! On her second outing, this indie singer-songwriter blends clever lyrics and hand-crafted compositions into a satisfying piano-pop package. Each song is a fully realized vignette, with a vibe, a mood, and a flavor all its own. From the introspective title track “My Glass Eye” to the quirky white-trash diner scenario in “Double Wide” and the lilting, melancholy “Home By Now,” it’s no wonder several of Beth’s songs have garnered awards from the USA and ISC songwriting competitions, even before the record was released. Producer Rob Cairns contributes inventive piano loops and synth creations on tracks like “Beautiful Lie” and “Once,” and keyboardist Michael Bluestein guests on “Stand.”
On her second album Beth Thornley demonstrates why her songs have become sought-after items among compilers of TV and cinematic soundtracks. Her musical ideas and her skills at fleshing them out far exceed those not only of the major-label female competition but of the major-label male competition as well. While one might expect a woman to prove adept at the feminine sensitivity on display in “You’re Right There” and the title track, their hooks, their shifting tempos, and Thornley’s singing fulfill the hopes of fans of Juliana Hatfield who always stopped short of going all the way (so to speak) with her. On the other hand, “Mr. Lovely” and “Done” rock out with a natural fierceness that vanquishes gender issues entirely. So solid is the album as a whole that the excellent acoustic cover of “Eleanor Rigby” at disc’s end feels more like an encore than a highlight.
“Listening to My Glass Eye is an exotic adventure. Thornley is a masterful writer, packing some piss and vinegar into her lyrics, yet on many tracks her interpretations are as forceful as a head-on collision with a dandelion.”
At a recent performace at The Gig, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Beth Thornley wielded everything from a megaphone to an accordion, showcasing a captivating sonic smorgasbord of power pop and quirky, unexpected lyrics. It was pure refreshment considering these days, nine times out of ten, one can guess the next line of a pop song.
Beth Thornley’s catchy pop songs sound oddly familiar, and that may be because the Los Angeles-based musician’s sweet, honeyed vocals and jangly, summery harmonies have been featured in a bunch of films and TV shows, from The Perfect Man to Felicity and Scrubs. More likely, though, it’s because Thornley sings about the kind of stuff we’ve all experienced.
Rating – 4.5 out of 5 stars
Does Beth Thornley want to be all things to all people? More likely she doesn’t want to be stylistically pigeonholed, an easy abyss for singer/songwriters to stumble into, and so she’s deliberately made My Glass Eye defiantly diverse. Almost every song on the set falls into a different genre, from the shimmering pop of the opening song, “Stand,” to the down-home blues of the hidden final track, as Eye casts its gaze across musical fields and finds them all equally delectable.
On My Glass Eye, Beth Thornley blends pop, alternative rock, and punk that really isn’t comparable to many other female solo artists out there. Alternative artists like Fiona Apple or Liz Phair are probably a little too alternative when paired with Thornley yet an artist like Anna Nalick is probably too mainstream and poppy. But, whatever the mix is, it works. Thornley knows how to write a pop song. Songs like “Beautiful Lie” and “Bound” recall Garbage while the title track recalls The Fray and shows off Thornley’s lyrical prowess, “Lately I’ve been apples to an oranges world / All that polish never brought much in return / so I’ve been flying kites through hurricanes to feel OK.” Look out for the excellent covers of Joe Jackson’s “Got the Time” and a mellow, Aimee Mann-esque version of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.”
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“Beth might be the only singer-songwriter I’ve heard in the last few years whose songs truly reflect her diverse musical tastes. On My Glass Eye, each song takes subtle, unpredictable twists and turns that most singer-songwriters have neither the balls, nor ability to pull off.”