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Blue on Blue

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2006 1 Aug
Blue on Blue
Sounds like … soft pop with alt folk/country leanings, not too dissimilar from Sixpence None the Richer, Sarah McLachlan, Brandi Carlile, Mindy Smith, and Over the RhineAt a glance … though a little too unassuming at times, Leigh Nash's solo debut revels in beauty and simplicity with an elegant collection of love songs and poetic musingsTrack Listing Along the Wall Nervous in the Light of Dawn My Idea of Heaven Ocean Size Love Never Finish Between the Lines More of It Angel Tonight Blue Cloud Nine Just a Little

Considering the lengthy span between albums during Sixpence None the Richer's strangely all-too-brief 13-year run, Leigh Nash is right on time with new output—four years after the band's last original effort, and two years after Sixpence decided to call it quits. Having spent half of her life making music with Matt Slocum, she understandably enters a new chapter with some trepidation and uncertainty. But marriage and motherhood, not to mention a short-lived move to Los Angeles, inspired Nash to write more songs on her own, an outpouring that yielded Blue on Blue.

Solo projects like this can be interesting when they allow an established artist like Nash to spread her wings into new frontiers. And pairing with a suitably matched, acclaimed producer like Pierre Marchand (Sarah McLachlan, Rufus Wainwright) only builds expectations for the plaintive singer to flex her creative muscle. Nash has long expressed her inspiration by Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn, so maybe this would be the opportunity to embrace her country roots similar to Mindy Smith or Brandy Carlile. Or imagine if she embraced a jazzy side like Wainwright or Norah Jones, or if Marchand steered her toward ethereal pop and alt folk reminiscent of McLachlan and Over the Rhine.

Blue on Blue dabbles with these styles without ever really committing to them. Sixpence was known for mixing dark alternative folk and rock with pleasant acoustic folk-pop ditties. Gone are Slocum's rock edge and the sort of hooks that made "Kiss Me" and "Breathe Your Name" radio hits, and although Nash treads the same territory as Sixpence, the results are simpler and more unassuming here. That works both for and against the album, but repeat listens and active listening ultimately make it a winner.

There are a few songs where it feels like Nash is merely going through the musical motions. Written for her son but applicable to any loved one, "Angel Tonight" sounds like typical Sixpence jangle pop without much of a hook. "Blue" suffers for the same reason—a good song that's too even-keeled to captivate. And "Nervous in the Light of Dawn" has potential with its melancholic tone, but is ultimately weighed down by a droning chorus that arguably compliments the fearful lyrics.

Most of the love songs work better, charming in the same way that "Kiss Me" was. Nash does croon a little like Patsy Cline in the ballad "Never Finish," as well as the sweetly delivered "My Idea of Heaven," which has an old-fashioned pop-country feel like some of Paul McCartney's classics. "More of It" celebrates young love and new marriage with a sound reminiscent of Sixpence's "Breathe Your Name," while the jangly "Cloud 9" cleverly employs a descending vertigo-laced melody and an abstract, jazzy piano solo to express dizzying romance.

But Nash is most successful when she steps outside of her core acoustic pop sound. "Ocean Size Love" has earned comparisons to Coldplay with its piano, bass, and driving toms, though the hypnotic interaction between piano and clarinet seems to recall a more poppy Sufjan Stevens as well. "Along the Wall" has just enough flowing piano and ethereal harmonies working with the bass and drums to resemble McLachlan's most pop-flavored work, as does "Between the Lines" with the darker electric piano and shimmering electric guitars. My favorite, however, is "Just a Little," an exquisite alt-pop lullaby that's like McLachlan-meets-Enya with an affecting melody, delicate strings, and atmospheric mellotron flutes.

For Christian listeners, the songs don't offer much spiritual depth, but then again, Sixpence wasn't particularly explicit with their faith either. Most tracks are unconditional love songs to spouse and son, delivered from a Christian perspective that mentions God and heaven here and there. Since Christians live and love like most humans, these themes certainly don't feel out of place, nor is the half-hearted emotional state ("Between I love you and I'll see you soon") expressed in "Between the Lines" or the prayerful anxiety of "Nervous in the Light of Dawn" any less relatable.

There's still that nagging feeling that something's missing from Blue on Blue, as excellent as it is. For fans of Sixpence, it may simply boil down to the absence of Matt Slocum. Pop music enthusiasts may cite a lack of spark that prevents these songs from becoming the radio hits they deserve. I'll still insist that Nash (and Marchand) hasn't taken the opportunity to stretch in order to give every track a more unique character. But regardless of these speculations, most would conclude that Blue on Blue is good enough—a sweetly subdued, but elegant pop album that revels in beauty and simplicity.

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