December 11, 2009

Rachael Cantu - Far and Wide

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Written By: Heather Wysocki

Label: Self-Released - Rating:

Rachael Cantu has toured with BB King, sung with Tegan Quin of Tegan and Sara, and had music featured on prime-time television.
The girl is what Winston Churchill would call a riddle wrapped in a mystery, and what those of us from Boston, where Cantu started gaining musical cred, would call a wicked hot ticket.

It’s safe to call “Far and Wide,” the second studio album from Cantu, a hot ticket too, full of a myriad influences and emotions that range from cheeky to cheerless in one four-line bridge.
And though she looks more apt to open for Pat Benatar (she’s done that, too), Cantu will indeed begin touring with BB King in January. As odd as that sounds – a skinny white girl sharing the stage with the legendary bluesman – Cantu has the chops, plus the sexy Nina Simone growl and slight bird-flipping rebellion that made blues so subversive during its heyday.

With subversive meaning ‘not Britney Spears’ in modern music, this girl’s definitely a rebel. There’s no glitter here, no short skirts or come-hither lyrics, and a definite dearth of auto-tuning, but the lack of cellophane shininess and slick production values are actually refreshing.
Cantu’s first song, “Devil’s Thunder,” is an interesting choice, melancholy and slow, a musing on life and all its pitfalls, but maybe not the perfect song to represent the rest of the album, considering its upbeat-but-probing feel.

A self-taught guitarist from Orange County (note the faint hints of optimism), Cantu spent quite a bit of time in Boston, too (note the melancholy that anybody within 100 miles of Boylston Street starts to feel around Nov. 1), a mix perfectly represented on happy-when-it’s-raining songs “Eaten Alive” and “Thieves and Their Hands.”

Clearly, though there’s a definite darkness to all her love songs, Cantu has had a few happy moments in her life, as well. “Make a Name for Me and You” is a violin-backed masterpiece, the slight country twang not a drawback but just another layer of complexity. That one’s matched equally by “Genius and a Wizard,” an acquiescent love song with just-have-to-smile lines like “I’m a genius and a wizard/ but I ain’t got nothing/ on ya, honey.”

Really, it’s just so damn pretty, which is probably why producers chose to feature it in “Private Practice,” the “Grey’s Anatomy” spin-off known, like its sexier older sibling, for whispery-voiced, guitar-driven ballads set to scenes of lovemaking on gurneys and long gazes during coffee breaks.

In other words, the music is slightly clich├ęd, with just enough Emily Dickenson-esque playfulness to keep it too kitschy. “Far and Wide” really is the perfect accompaniment for the sort of TV coeds watch while devouring Ben & Jerry’s and espousing on the pros and cons of dating the quarterback.

Cantu’s music is universal enough for almost any girl to identify with – frankly, it’s difficult to think of too many of those swooned-over quarterbacks listening to this pop-lite confection – but quirky enough to attract the girls who grew up wanting to be Lisa Loeb.

What comes through most clearly, on both successful efforts like “We’re the Rebels” and not-so-standout “Blue House Baby,” is Cantu’s personality, which she makes no bones about. She’s funny like Tina Fey (a fellow sexy geek) but introspective like Loeb and other rah-rah female singer-songwriters Tegan and Sara, Bjork and Sarah McLachlan.

The perfect mix of sweet and standoffish, Cantu is a breath of fresh O.C. air in a land of Lady Gaga showmanship and Taylor Swift sticky-sweet. While it’s been done before, the earnest “Far and Wide” is honestly good.

Like Rachael Cantu? Try: Tegan and Sara, The Pretenders, PJ Harvey

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