Brooding and Beautiful

If singer-songwriter Rachel Taylor Brown's third release, "Ormolu," needed to be summed up in a single word, it would have to be "melancholic." But "pensive" could work well, too, as would "brooding," or to keep it simple, "sad."

And "beautiful" would be apt as well.

While Brown's previous efforts have leaned toward footloose alt-folk pop, the eight tracks on "Ormolu" (the term for the fake gold you see on ornate mirrors and frames) are aimed at that mysterious vulnerable spot between your heart and stomach.

Framed by elegant piano and washes of elusive sounds, "Linda" conjures images of Tori Amos' more subdued songs, as shards of Brown's fragile story-singing circle around her as if they have sailed into a sonic house of mirrors. The stark and haunting tale is ethereal and hypnotic.

The title track is a stripped-down dirge that peaks in a banshee wail and begs for repeated reflection on the song's puzzling poetics. The following "Upright Man" sounds playful in comparison, distracting with nearly discernable whispers-in-tongues, buoyed by spirited piano from Chris Robley (who leads Portland's piano pop saviors the Sort Ofs, of which Brown is a member) [note: a slight misunderstanding...Chris sings backup on Upright Man but doesn't play].

The most compelling track on "Ormolu" is tucked away at the end, and lyrically consists only of Brown chanting and wailing. But the build up and release of emotional tension and the church-like treatment (by local recording guru Jeff Stuart Saltzman) is so moving and masterfully done, you become lost in the song and a bit bewildered when it closes in under two minutes.

And that's the difficult artistic trick Brown has pulled off with "Ormolu." She's managed to construct a quick listen that feels almost epic, an album that demands to be encountered and examined again and again.

Scott D. Lewis, The Oregonian