Though she once called Nashville home and is now a resident of New York City, Vanessa Handrick has strong song 'n' dance ties to her native Houston, including the obligatory HSPVA diploma and a stint with Theatre Under the Stars. But sometime after she started performing at age seven, the former musical theater prodigy found her inner wild child.
With a voice that sounds like a Harley-riding, Marlboro-drenched Natalie Merchant, Handrick belts out ten tunes on this rock-oriented release that show a lot of promise, and they're all buoyed by Grey Garner's on-the-money production and arranging. (Garner, of the band Lackey, also wrote or co-wrote eight of the songs, with Handrick penning one song alone and another with a different co-writer.)
It helps (at least for the record) that Handrick seems to have had plenty of fucked-up relationships. With the forceful lead-off, "Insane," she asks her lover to "think beyond himself" while steeling for his dismissive comment that she's acting "like a typical woman." In "That Way" and "Our Resignation," a voice that seems to grow bigger with each chorus -- perhaps an unconscious holdover from the theater -- wails solid melodies with genuine emotion. And in "Horrible Me," she acknowledges (unlike most of modern rock's current "woe is me" songwriters) that sometimes the fault is her own. "Now I know / How I tore you up," she sings. "Soon you will see / my pattern / is still crash and burn." Yeah, but it sounds like an exciting ride.
There are, however, weaknesses on A Letter Home to You, and usually they're written in the voice of that unstable girl next to you in algebra who reads too much Sylvia Plath. The plaintive "All the Answers" almost comes off as a Tori Amos parody, while "Broken Wing" carries dismayingly clichéd "flying with angels" and "rising above the pain" lyrical imagery. Handrick as Joan Jett soars, but she makes for a flawed Jewel.
As long as she stays hooked in to the right material, Handrick's potential could take her a long way. Already, her "Not the One" (included here) was featured on a Ralph Lauren commercial, and a snippet of her music made its way to Dawson's Creek. Hey, it worked for Paula Cole
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