Sometimes you’ve got to indulge your musical sweet tooth. Petits Bisous, the second album from cellist-singer-songwriter Erin Hall, is filled with tiny, witty songs designed to put a smile on your face. Her music is largely in the 50s/60s doo-wop template, with peppy piano lines, wandering stand-up bass lines, and light female backup vocals, an aesthetic that pairs very well with the twee stories she tells.
Hall, who performs with an 7-piece band as Erin and Her Cello, has made a name for herself with her infectiously fun live performances, thanks to her bubbly stage presence and stand-up-comedy lyrics. In her debut album, she sang about a Duane Reade cashier with freakishly large nails, going to the zoo, and falling in love on the subway.
Petits Bisous uses a similar template. The opening song, “Rebound Magnet,” is a peppy ode to being a relationship also-ran, backed with piano and jazzy sax. Hall sings in a rapid-fire, breathy style that at times makes it hard to understand what she’s saying, but as a whole it’s a bright, high-energy opener.
The rest of the songs continue in the same mold. In “Google Stock,” a joyfully avaricius Hall starts out asking for the title item as a birthday present – “It doesn’t have to cost a lot/’cause if you’re smart it was already bought/before the recession.” “Breakdancin’ Man” relates the common NYC subway experience of tolerating foul-smelling dancers on your subway ride, while “Walk of Fame” covers the trip home after a one-night stand.
As with her first album, there’s a song entirely in French – “Bonbons Chocolat” – and while some find the lyrical nature of the French language quite beautiful, I think it’s a bit of misstep. Though the title evokes the melt-in-your-mouth treats that most songs on the album resemble, the fact that the song is in French robs it of the on-the-nose cleverness that drives most of her music.
Among this batch of pretty trifles is one truly beautiful and poignant gem: “2 Good 2 B True.” Despite the unfortunate title, probably meant to evoke a text message, it’s slow jam in the doo-wop mold, about a hipster boy-girl meet-cute on New Years’ Day (“tall and lanky with a boyish smile/a touch of awkwardness to drive me wild”), with concertina and vibraphone. Her airy voice perfectly complements the bittersweet tone of the track, and it all gels beautifully.
The final track, “Just Maybe,” again finds Hall in a more romantically serious mode, and it’s another winner. This time, a bowed cello finally makes an appearance, and it’s beautiful – which raises the question: why isn’t there more cello on this album? A cello player since she was 8, Hall has a beautiful sound, but the album is sparsely populated by finger-plucked cello apart from the final track.
In the end, this a fun, lighthearted album filled with songs that wouldn’t be out of place at a children’s birthday party or a Williamsburg dinner party. Hall shows tremendous promise as a songwriter and a lyricist, as long as she continues to rely on her cello talent and skill for a clever turn of phrase.
* * * * * * * * * * *
September 16, 2014