One thing is clear from the start of Pittsburgh singer songwriter moniker Shay’s debut solo album Love Letters, and that is that she has a very beautiful voice and a talent for using it to the best of her abilities over mostly ghostly acoustic guitar and electronic elements. Before embarking on a solo career Shay sang and played guitar in the now disbanded Lushwell & Dawn Canon.
Love Letters is exactly what one might expect of an album named Love Letters. Here Shay presents eight songs about relationships, generally ones that are over, are on their way to being over, or from the perspective of someone looking back on the relationship with a fresh perspective on why it ended.
I like the concept Shay has going with the electronic acoustic situation going on, an aspect I find very different from many singer songwriters working today. And in the lyric department Shay shines as well, with slyly written lyrics that make you think. Take the opening track called “Leash of Me” on which Shay sings in her breathy slowly spoken voice, “You wanted only to support a half-lit bride/ Is it your occupation to glaze the rib aside? /You’re surely not the Leash of Me/ He, he/ Police your hands, baby/ He, he.” She definitely gives the listener a lot to ponder here.
Though I don’t want to rule out the fact that the musical aspects of Shay’s songs are not important as she does have some very good instrumental arrangements, like on the track “Lessons of Love” which has a nice alt-blues and country style tone going on, and just the slightest hint of brass that whispers along in the background.
There are times when Love Letters drags though, like on the longish “Thank the Academy” and then there is the completely out of place concept that is “Manifesto,” which is a woman talking, her voice lowered by computer manipulation. Shay makes up with it though on the album’s best track “Ugly Things,” which has the feeling of a slow dirge, as does the hopeful closer “Silver Lining.”
Singer songwriters seem to come out of the woodwork all the time and many of them end up sounding like caricatures of one another. This hasn’t happened to Shay thankfully, and I think a large part of that has to do with her combination of lyrics, vocals and chosen instruments. Though not everything she tries to do always work for her, when things do work they are strikingly good to hear.
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