Singer/songwriter Suzanna Choffel's version of folk -- she calls it urban+folk -- employs pop elements with lots of tiny, percussive, calypso bubbles floating to the surface beneath her breathy Lauren Hill-ish vocals. And while Choffel is front and center on her pleasant debut Shudders & Rings, it is producer Stephen Orsak who seems to conduct the synthesizers and glockenspiels that give Choffel's songs their lazy, rainy-day atmospherics and pop gloss. Choffel is a formally trained musician who distinguishes herself from the folk pack with a hollow-body electric guitar played with a distinctive style (she creates lots of percussion by hammering the strings with her fingers).
The problem with Shudders & Rings is that much of the poetry is overwrought. Choffel admirably attempts to pack every line with deep meaning or smoldering desire, but this leads to some lyrical clunkers. There is an overriding sense that we are listening to those icky secret-diary profundities that will probably prove embarrassing to her in a few years when she listens to this record anew. She tries too hard to project that pouting, sultry, simmering, undiscovered love machine waiting in the emotional wings on songs like "My Fill" and "Subtle Boy." Choffel has great musical and vocal flair for drama; unfortunately, there is little drama in squishy lyrics like "true love is selfless and yet selfish too / and your body is a country that I never venture to." Don't get me wrong, though; Choffel is a serious comer, a talented musician and arranger who should only get better if she sharpens her pencil.