To open her second set, Alejandra O’Leary decides to perform a cover song without her band. Wearing a denim jacket over a farmers market t-shirt and jeans, she sits on a stool with her acoustic guitar as the packed-in coffeehouse crowd watches her play a stripped-down cover of the normally bombastic, over-the-top “No Surrender,” a Bruce Springsteen song whose words, O’leary says, “perfectly express how I feel about this band.” With all of the attention focused on her, she sings, “We made a promise we swore we’d always remember. No retreat, no surrender.”
Heartspace Timepiece is a truly modern album that combines most loved elements of rock with unexpected and unique elements, making for a compelling musical landscape. The musicianship is near perfect and the arrangements solid, thus reaching for a mystic musical vista that is a joy to hear. Just when you least expect it, the pedal steal comes in all dreamy, making your heart ache with love of beauty. Alejandra has an unforgettable voice that adds an emotionally satisfying element to the music, as she sings with a heartache specific to this generation. She has a raw beauty that needs no dolling up, and a pure and strong spirit that shines through. Her presence is compelling and intimate in a way that is lost on most popular music these days.
Alejandra O’Leary delights in opposites. So it’s no surprise that her new CD, “Heartspace Timepiece,” is inspired by both edgy rock and crafty pop.
“I love those two styles so much. I love The Ramones, I love The Strokes and I love ABBA,” she said. O’Leary and her band, Champions of the West, play a free show Saturday night, Aug. 30, at Crazy Wisdom in downtown Ann Arbor.
In the 1980s and 1990s, women had more room to be tough on the radio. From Natalie Merchant in 10,000 Maniacs to Suzanne Vega to the Bangles to the Cowboy Junkies, female pop stars maintained the memorable hooks and lighter production touch that marked them as, well, pop stars–but they also wrote open, honest, and raw songs themselves, and delivered those hooks with a defiant snarl.
Probably without trying to do so, this group has managed to put out a soundtrack for an indie film that has yet to be made. The songs on this disc have that same listless, yet wistful, tone that captures the lighthearted grittiness found in so many movies of that genre. It swings between every pace of the human condition.