Ah, the sophomore outing.
What more vexing way of testing an artist’s mettle than seeing if they can replicate the magic of their debut, while not leaning on the former so much that they trend formulaic? It’s a difficult balancing act, and many have gone to the guillotine for their inability to pull it off.
And so we have Robin Bacior, owner of an enchanting voice and a woman with a knack for writing memorable if airy, three- to four-minute jazz-folk tunes, and her new record, Light It Moved Me, out Friday via Portland’s Spirit House. The new record is most surely a sister of Bacior’s beautiful 2015 outing, Water Dreams, in that the new LP also consists of largely piano-driven fare where Bacior’s breathy, seductive timbre plays to the front row. But the distinctions between the two are important to note.
While Water Dreams was fleshed out with strings and atmospherics, if somewhat sparingly, Light It Moved Me is a more straight-forward affair, with Bacior’s voice and piano only occasionally accompanied by anything more than spare percussion. (This makes a pop chanteuse like Robin Spektor look downright experimental.) Anyone taking even a cursory spin with the new material, though, will sense an assuredness, a real sense of confidence, in Bacior’s performances that belies the fact this is not her first rodeo.
What I missed from revisiting the magic of the debut was the riskiness of it all. Yes, “A Story In The Times,” a great track off the new LP, toys with digital delays and creates an intoxicating bit of texture with Bacior’s layered voice. But that is the exception on the new record. Bacior is more assured on Light, but she also is more direct, hearkening back to the 70s fare by Carole King or Joni Mitchell less than the 00s outings by genre-bender queen Jolie Holland.
The new album is surely honey-sweet, though, you’ve got to admit that. And for the right set of ears? Even magical. Does Bacior live up to Water Dreams, which elicited its share of praise and listens a few years ago? Yes, in most respects. But she doesn’t lay out a groundwork for a third record, doesn’t leave clues as to areas where she can grow beyond the current dimensions, and for someone with a voice like this, that’s a lost opportunity.