One look at the luscious title script of Erin McCarley’s “Love, Save the Empty,” flowing freely on a sepia self-portrait on the album cover, and it is easy to write off the Texas singer-songwriter’s debut as another jaunt into a hackneyed fairyland of escapist romance. Or maybe a Britney-fied pop brothel. But with the voice of a demigoddess, McCarley creates an album that is more like a venture into Zeus’s high-priced call service — deserving whatever level of respectability you would ascribe thereto.
McCarley’s sound is like a good red wine: ever-so-slightly sweet and full-bodied, with a clean finish. It is an aural aphrodisiac, tantalizing in its lingering phrasing and vocal warmth. Its clarity calls Sheryl Crow or Sarah Bareilles to mind; its southern sass expressed with jazzy richness evokes a sexier Norah Jones, perhaps most evident on the track “Sticky-Sweet.” After letting words hug her tongue before releasing them breathily — a style that is sultry in its own right — McCarley chants most seductively, “Take me home to your secret/ Take me home to your wild sanctuary.”
The parallels to Regina Spektor are also patent. McCarley’s unique jangly productions (see “Blue Suitcase”) and mellifluous, floating vocals are most reminiscent to the quirky singer. But her phrasing is nowhere near as idiosyncratic and her songwriting not as strange as Spektor’s (albeit similarly illusory), making her album more palatable to a general audience.
The album is not without its faults. The ambiguity of McCarley’s angsty musings on love are at times inane (the chorus of the title track — simply, “Love. Save the empty” — or the first verse of “Hello Goodbye” — “Hello, goodbye/ Good day, good night/ you love, you hide; why?” are examples of this) and all too given to childish flights of fancy (“Say that magic word/ And take me far away”). But her lyrics most often do achieve a pensive poetic originality. On “Pitter Pat,” for example, McCarley wonders how to deal with an unfaithful lover, writing: “Tick tock, the clock is getting louder/ ready for me to decide.”
The album’s most notable track is “Pony (It’s OK),” a single to listen for on the radio. Finger-snapping and exuberant piano chords coalesce with McCarley’s vocal lightness (“So open up and sing/ now go be free and fly away”) to create a sort of pop euphoria.
McCarley’s first effort is thoughtful, musically fresh and downright provocative. This is one Southern pop nectar you probably want to taste.