Like all smart singer/songwriters, Lisa Novak has surrounded herself with outstanding musicians, such as drummer Paul Valdez and guitarists Larry Cooper and Chris Masterson, for her latest CD, Too Shallow to Swim. And as expected, all of the sidemen on this project deliver excellent performances here. It's Novak who is uneven.
A three-time Houston Press Music Awards winner (with back-to-back wins for Best Female Vocalist in 2005 and 2006), Novak has a reputation for being a talented and spirited performer. But throughout Too Shallow to Swim, there's a sense that Novak is holding back, leaving listeners with the urge to ask her to let loose, to go ahead and wail, to tear the roof off the joint. It's what she does in her live shows, but sadly, not what she does here.
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Novak wrote all ten songs on the disc, and while there are some standouts, such as "I Remembered I Forgot" and "Prove Me Wrong," surprisingly, there are also some less impressive cuts like the opening track, "Fair Warning," and "These Days."
The opening lines of "I Remembered I Forgot" show Novak's solid country-alt songwriting skills: "I made my bed while I made my mind up / then I made a list of all those things that I said I would do while the sun was up / but I knew something was missing / 'Cause I'm being pulled in all directions / Trying to beat the clock to stay on time." Likewise with "The Allure" and its catchy hook: "I still dream about you, baby / but all you think about is her / if I'm the one with all this promise / then why does she have the allure?"
The opening bars of the CD's final track, "Where I Lie," sound promising, with some interesting percussion work by Valdez, but at just two-and-a-half minutes long, it sounds unfinished, incomplete. And "Fair Warning" seems much too familiar, not just radio-ready but radio-done. We've already heard this, from every other girl with a guitar.
Novak's Too Shallow to Swim is much too safe, and listeners don't get a sense of her true quality. What you get on stage is not what you get on this CD, and that's too bad.