If only “Moving On” could just be half as good in quality as Karla Chisholm is at being dramatic, it would be the single greatest record to come out of the state of Maryland in the history of local music. Unfortunately, it’s not, and instead, the six tracks that make up the singer’s latest release are overshadowed by an abundance of painstakingly forced vocal runs and a wandering eye that can’t quite settle on which side of pop it wants to focus.
All of the failed attempts at eclecticism could be compromised, however, if Chisholm didn’t try so darn hard to let her emotions be her calling card. The constant gyrating of her projection becomes so off-putting by the time the EP winds down that the collection seems more like a “Saturday Night Live” comedy record compiled by Kristin Wiig and her exaggerated impressions of soul singers. Yes, there is something to be said about knowing when and how to settle down.
That’s why the best moments come when the Baltimore-area vocalist leans on her solid backing band to help create a level of ability that is seen in only sparse moments throughout all of “Moving On.” Take “Brain Snow,” which serves as the record’s best track with its groovy swing and powerful horns. Not only does the song illustrate Chisholm’s willingness to dip her toes into an accessible form of jazz, but it also showcases how affecting her vocals can be if she just plays it straight. Echoing a tiny dose of Australian singer Sarah Blasko with a splash of Natalie Merchant, the song proves the artist has both range and taste, despite those elements becoming occasionally invisible throughout the rest of the release.
Album-closer “The One,” for instance, becomes laughable with the needless scatting and low-level take on pop gospel that accentuates as the song comes to an end. The hook may be inescapable, but the performance is inherently missing subtlety, thus forcing the track as a whole to appear entirely generic. The same kind of kitschy approach bleeds through on “Lover’s Wonderland,” a cringe-inducing awkward attempt at Mariachi flavor. Here, the singer uses the world music platform as a place for her to let that voice wander out to sea without a compass or a care.
Worse are the tracks that strip down the performances, presumably in an effort to show the breadth of Chisholm’s voice. “Mexico” isn’t as bad as it could be, considering the ballad premise, though the first minute or so feels noticeably insincere and forced. That changes, however slightly, as her band picks up the pace and the piano welcomes accompaniment. “Losing Control,” however, isn’t quite as lucky with its dramatic backdrop and excessive vocal meandering becoming too uncomfortable to consume.
Voted Most Likely to Be Played in A Starbucks is “Sun & Moon,” a predictable metaphor that somehow manages to make coffee shop schlock even more pretentious than it typically is. Her play for poignancy is buried in a sea of cliches and over-performance. The most affecting element of the track comes in the form of a Rhodes, which is tinkered with only sparingly. The layered harmonies are noteworthy, too, if only for how much of a break they grant away from the rest of the grandstanding nature these songs exude.
It’s that attention-seeking surface that ultimately does “Moving On” in. With these six songs, Karla Chisholm has painted herself to be a worldly female version of local pop presence Ted Garber, and that may be interpreted a lot of ways, none of which would be particularly flattering. Her refusal to ignore the temptation of setting herself apart from other pop vocalists has allowed an unforgivable element of posturing to these six songs in a way that utterly eliminates the impact of the few promising spots that appear. In short, it’s hard to imagine the possibility of this thing being any more egocentric than it already is.
Oh, if only.
* 1 1/2 STARS OUT OF 4 *