November 6, 2008

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Vonda Shepard, From the Sun
Bos Music, Sept. 16

Eyeroll-inducing neurotic overacting had its big bang in the handful of years prior to 9/11 in Calista Flockhart’s portrayal of Ally McBeal, its emotional subtexts spoon-fed to Gen-Xers too zoned from overwork to dare indulge in anything with more substance. Looking back, Vonda Shepard was more a metaphoric part of the show than you probably realized; with her tough-but-hot blonde-ness and impenetrable voice, she stood as Ally’s life-force, this manifested in Shepard’s weepy ballads when Ally got dumped, rockin’ soul when the yuppie club was pumping, ad nauseum-vomitum.

Nothing’s changed except for the pedigree of Shepard’s record label. As before, she’s burdened-or-blessed with one of the most uniquely textured (if of one color, always and forever) voices in American pop culture, part Anita Baker, part Aretha but with a well-defined limit she refuses to screw with. The songs themselves deviate little from the Ally McBeal jukebox, lots of yelly background singers assisting in yuppified gospel/R&B; in fact closeout track “Finally Home” was originally intended for use on the show. “Another January” has a pulse, however, in its kinship to Beach Boys “Sail on Sailor,” and a few other high-minded attempts do point to a desire to break away from her (inescapable) typecasting. B — Eric W. Saeger