Bess Rogers – Out of the Ocean (2011)

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An involvingly diverse recording artist, Bess Rogers sounds at times like a folkie singer-songwriter project, at others like a tough, punky quipster, and at still others like a pink-clad princess spinning around in a whirl of pop glitter. That’s the strength, and the intrigue, of her new indie release Out of the Ocean.

Ostensibly a meditation on the concept of fish-to-man evolution, the album has so much going on — it’s bold, but somehow sweet, too — that you’re forgiven for not noticing. As diverse and it is connective, Out of the Ocean is that rare themed project that allows for broad interpretative involvement. The lyrics are painted with such a wide-bristled brush, with such writerly ambiguity, that we can see ourselves in every song.

Meanwhile, the Brooklyn, N.Y., native never tires of tinkering, adding in dashes of Kate Bush, Nick Drake and the Flaming Lips, but yet always sounding very much like herself. There’s the perfect power-pop of “One Step Free,” the crunchy new wave of “Standing Tall,” the swooning Sheryl Crow-ish so-cal rock of “Weak Link” then something best described as a synth-laden robot love song on “Math and Science” — and you’re barely a third of the way into the album.

“Anchor,” perhaps the best encapsulation of Rogers’ strengths, is somehow tenderly passionate despite a clapping syncopation straight out of a Irish pub song. “In the Waves” grows quieter still, as she explores the lonesome deep-blue dysphoria of an underwater existence. Just like that, though, Rogers gathers herself for “Water and Dirt,” a pop-rock gem that simply begs to be sung along with. By the time she gets to “I’ll be Gone,” Rogers is telling somebody off against a rhythm that’s best described as tumbling ass over teakettle. Yet, she is never very far away from a very real epiphany, as the soaring, Sarah McLachlan-esque “Brick by Brick” so achingly reminds. Clinched anger gives way, as it will, to a stinging clarity.

That she can move so bravely, so fluidly, and with such authenticity, between these many varied emotions and sounds speaks volumes about her maturity as a young songwriter. Already, Bess Rogers is just as adept within the style of Juliana Hatfield as she is Ani DiFranco. Oh, and Regina Spektor. And … well, you get the idea.

Produced by Chris Kuffner (Ingrid Michaelson’s Girls and Boys) and recorded partly in a Maine farmhouse studio owned by Sam Kassirer (producer of Josh Ritter and Erin McEown) and partly in Rogers’ home studio in Brooklyn, Out Of The Ocean features a host of talented friends including Michaelson (with whom Rogers has toured as guitarist), Allie Moss, Ian Axel, Saul Simon-MacWilliams, Elliot Jacobson and Dave Eggar (Train, Beyonce). Rogers, who has shared the stage with Michaelson, Loudon Wainwright, Ari Hest, Axel, Allie Moss and others, has had music featured on such television shows as “One Tree Hill,” “Pretty Little Liars,” “Raising The Bar,” and “Switched At Birth,” and a national Motts for Tots commercial.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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