Maybe it's a bad thing to review albums when I don't feel like being nice to strangers.
My very first impression of Tara Jane O'Neil involved a group called the Society for Creative Anachronisms, or SCA. If you've ever been to a renaissance fair or a medeival festival, you will probably have some idea of what I'm talking about: it is a group for people who like to dress up like people from the Middle Ages. The women who attend their events either dress like princesses or whores, and the guys frequently show off by 'sword-fighting' with long sticks covered in foam. If my descriptions seem a bit disdainful, it is because I associate the organization with people who are so desperate to fit in, they will make asses of themselves to do it. I remember going to one gathering with my father when I was young and being amazed by the amount of people who smelled like they hadn't taken a shower in a week; my father said they were "trying to be authentic," but I refused to go again.
I saw O'Neil as one of these people. In my imagination, she had envisioned herself a female troubadour (though it is probably very unlikely that there was such a thing in medieval times) and played for her friends at one of these events. They encouraged her to release an album. She shouldn't have listened to people who still listen to Ace of Base religiously, but of course, this is all about being accepted in the crowd, so she didn't question it....
But then I listened again. This time, I heard Alanis Morrissette singing to slow, acoustic songs. Again, my imagination kicked in. Alanis had taken a new name and decided to tone down her music a little bit. No more wailing at the top of her lungs; no more studio musicians to back her up. Instead, she had some friends that she'd been jamming with who really wanted to put out the songs they had made. Maybe, Alanis thought, the world would start to take her seriously again and she could make a comeback with this so-called cutting edge music. Too bad for her, and for O'Neil, that other people have done this and done it far better.
The scene in my mind switched again. There is a somewhat famous painting that consists of two or three blocks of color on a canvas. I can't remember who painted it because I always felt like it was the most absurd abuse of art. When I see these sloppy squares of yellow and red, I sneer. I'm actually more into visual art than music, so this painting offends me more than music ever could, but it has the same numbing effect that O'Neil's music has. Both leave me with a slightly bitter taste in my mouth, not enough to make me angry but just enough to annoy me.
In the end, I have to return to Tara Jane O'Neil. She isn't these other people that my imagination wanted to paint, though she isn't much better than them either. Her doubled vocals add distance to the recording, and the subdued music suffers from friction with them. The sounds are all too delicate to be so overwhelmed by her voice. In a more pensive mood, I may find myself a lot more satisfied by O'Neil's brand of sophisticated country, but instead, I'm only irritated. 5/10 -- Eden Hemming Rose (25 May, 2005)