The pouty quality of Amy LaVere's voice makes her a perfect fit for angsty love songs, and her third album, "Stranger Me," is full of them. But in an ironic twist reminiscent of mid-'90s No Doubt, LaVere is joined by her recent ex-boyfriend (and longtime bandmate), drummer Paul Taylor, which certainly adds to the tension in her songs.
Ultimately, LaVere's music is more dreamy than angry, letting Taylor play a supporting character instead of the villain. It's easy for LaVere to maintain the spotlight with her enticingly sultry sigh: The album-opening "Damn Love Song" escalates with her trancelike repetition, and the pensive "Cry My Eyes Out" sounds like a lullaby with her measured pace. While the guitar tone on "Red Banks" evokes Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain," the song's real mood comes from LaVere's upright bass, which adds a low rumble that complements her haunting moan.
LaVere doesn't always keep things so down-tempo, though. "You Can't Keep Me" carries a pop tone that finds her standing up for herself amid peppy trumpets and a lush orchestration of organs and guitar. Heartbreak may have inspired "Stranger Me," but LaVere won't be kept down for long.
-- Catherine P. Lewis