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Grey DeLisle

Sugar Hill

Grey DeLisle may make folk music, but she doesn’t do trad. Witness the opening number of Iron Flowers, a cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” that recasts the Queen epic as a slow, pedal-steel-inflected lament. On her fourth full-length, the Los Angeles singer/

autoharpist/voice-over artist—she’s the speaking voice of Yumi on Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi, among others—displays a bold approach that’s admirable even when it results in some execrable sounds. Take bad-girl ballad “The Bloody Bucket,” all hopped up on mandolin, stinkin’ drunk on clichés, and staggering through a wasteland of clunky syllables. “If your watered-down tequila’s fueled a thirst for stronger stuff,” the Cartoon Network– endorsed enunciator manages, “[t]hen this dark and hungry look here in my eyes might be enough.” And if it’s not enough, she’ll also offer eyes “the color of your bruised and broken soul” and the chance to “hide your drunken breath behind my tresses black as coal.” Then they dance. Apparently, when talents such as Marvin Etzioni, Murry Hammond, Dave Mattacks, and Greg Leisz—guys who’ve helped shape the sounds of Lone Justice, Old 97s, Fairport Convention, and seemingly half of the artists on Hear Music—fail, they can fail spectacularly. Usually, though, Flowers just wilts a little. The somewhat appealing “Joanna” is marred by an ersatz south-of-the-border arrangement. On the fierce “Right Now,” the little wobble in DeLisle’s soprano ought to signify vulnerability but instead suggests a poor match between singer and song. Likewise, on “Who Made You King,” DeLisle sounds as if she’s merely playing the role of a seductress—never really embodying it in the way that, say, Maria McKee would—but the song, by Etzioni and Sam Lorber, is a keeper, all smartly thwacked snare and shimmering strings. Better still is “Sweet Little Bluebird”—at least when it’s played straight: just voice, guitar, and a tale of a death-bound prisoner. Superimposing excerpts from a field recording of “Cold Iron Shackles” is plain tacky. As for “Rhapsody,” well, with a little more Scaramouch and fandango it might have worked. Still, its harsh final action, which sounds like DeLisle’s raking a nail straight up the open-tuned strings of her autoharp, gives me hope. Someday, such eccentricities might take her to where, as Ami and Yumi sing, “anything is possible.” But in a good way. —Pamela Murray Winters