Daily Breeze

CD REVIEW: Beth Thornley, ‘Wash You Clean’
By Sam Gnerre Staff Writer
Posted: 02/25/2010 05:53:02 PM PST

Beth Thornley definitely avoids the usual singer-songwriter ruts on her third independently released album. That much is clear from the sawing baritone sax riff that kicks off the opening title track. When it unexpectedly leads into a pulverizing chorus, it becomes apparent that Thornley has got something out of the ordinary going on here.

Not that she doesn’t have tunesmithing instincts to burn. They spill out on every track, from textbook sensitive piano ballads such as “Everyone Falls” to bouncy pop-rock such as “A to Z.”

Producer Rob Cairns deserves credit for setting Thornley’s songs off to full advantage by placing them in inventive arrangements, such as the throbbing bass and percussion mix in “You’re So Pony.” (According to the credits, he also acted as “carburetion theory advisor” for Thornley’s auto engine metaphor in the lyrics to the title track.)

Several of Thornley’s lyrics cut deeper than expected. The Bacharach-esque ballad “What the Heart Wants” sounds headed for easy-listening standard status, but Thornley’s vocal delivery from the perspective of the one who loves less in a relationship only makes us feel her unheard lover’s pain more.

“Never Your Girl” then turns that situation on its ear, its narrator wanting to believe she’s loved though she knows deep down it isn’t true. Through it all, Thornley not only navigates complex emotional minefields, but also flawlessly picks her way through an ear-pleasing variety of musical styles. “Wash U Clean,” scheduled for release Tuesday, is consistently and unpredictably excellent.

Sam Gnerre