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Halie Loren: Heart First

Dan Bilawsky By

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Though vocalist Halie Loren has made a name for herself by bringing her warm and inviting alto to bear on a mixture of pop and jazz classics, she has received far too little attention in the United States. Much of the praise heaped upon her comes from Japan, where her fan base is strong and plentiful, but this Alaska-born, Eugene-based beauty may finally be able to make major inroads in the U.S. market with Heart First.

This fourteen-track program is heavy on the heart theme, her diverse material drawn from disparate sources that fit this overall concept. Nevertheless, it all comes together to perfection. Depending on the song, Loren can be sweet, sly, or sultry, but she always finds the right read.

All of the covers on Heart First have been done ad infinitum, but Loren's ability to find something new in the old makes this a fun ride. She finds the middle ground between Bob Marley's impassioned delivery and Annie Lennox's pop sheen on "Waiting In Vain," strips "Sway (Quién Será)" to its seductive core, and removes any hint of Eartha Kitt from "C'est Si Bon." "All Of Me," underscored by a slow burning bass and tom groove, receives a reading that's far more provocative than the norm.

In Loren's able hands, Neil Young's twang is nowhere to be found on his "Lotta Love," which sounds like a cross between a Michael Buble pop hit and "Everyday Is A Holiday (With You)" from Esthero and Sean Lennon. While innovation is present in many of the arrangements, Loren doesn't mess with some standards on some standards. "Taking A Chance On Love" and "My One And Only Love" both receive fairly routine deliveries, giving the young vocalist a chance to shine in a more straightforward manner.

While Loren's talents as a songwriter are downplayed here (there are only four originals sprinkled amongst the fourteen tracks), she does make an impact with her self-penned pieces. "In Time," the most moving of Loren's originals, crosses Hem-like serenity with a Sophie Milman-leaning sound, while the title track mixes country inflections with traces of barroom informality. "Tender To The Touch," with its strong R&B influence, is the most pop-leaning of the bunch, and the album-opening "A Woman's Way" proves to be the most breezy, in music if not in words.

The backing band on this album does a fine job throughout, even if it largely serves as window dressing for Loren. Pianist Matt Treder, who regularly brings class, charm and his own instrumental voice into the picture, and trumpeter Rob Birdwell, who makes an impact with only a scant presence on a few tracks, are the notable exceptions.

Heart First should help to elevate Halie Loren's profile on the home front. She's deserving of more attention, and this record is pure magic.

Track Listing: A Woman's Way; C'Est Si Bon; Waiting In Vain; Sway (Quién Será); Heart First; My One And Only Love; Feeling Good; All Of Me; Tender To The Touch; Taking A Chance On Love; Lotta Love; In Time; Smile; Crazy Love.

Personnel: Halie Loren: vocals, piano (12); Matt Treder: piano, Rhodes piano; Mark Schneider: bass; Brian West: drums; William Seiji Marsh: guitar; Sergei Teleshev: accordion (1), button accordion (13); Rob Birdwell: trumpet (2), flugelhorn (4, 11); Hank Shreve: harmonica (7); Dale Bradley: cello (12).

Title: Heart First | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Justin Time Records

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