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Serena Ryder, Unlikely Emergency 

(Isadora Records, CD)

Canadian singer-songwriter Serena Ryder stole the spotlight at age 2, and she's not giving it back any time soon. Her strikingly impressive, three-octave range is the real star of Ryder's first international release, Unlikely Emergency. It's no wonder Canadian producer and musician Hawksley Workman -- who plays several instruments on the album -- chose her as the first artist for his new indie label, Isadora Records.

The 10 songs on the disc are wildly different. On the punch-in-the-gut opener "Sing Sing," Ryder delivers an earthy howl, accompanied by vigorous drumming. The bop-fest "Daydream" evokes an "American Idol" sensibility and is unabashed pop. "Every Single Day" is a rootsy affair, featuring traces of the country music Ryder used to perform at open mikes when she was 13. In those days, the young singer would take the stage dressed as Robert Smith from The Cure -- not your average cowgirl getup, to say the least.

Unlikely Emergency's standout cut, the Etta James classic "At Last," is the only tune on the disc Ryder didn't write and it's a wrenchingly beautiful interpretation. Too bad there aren't more moments like this on the record; Ryder benefits from material worthy of her extraordinary range. She often closes her shows with this number, a fitting choice for a performer who shines brightest without any musical accompaniment at all.

That the disc's most powerful song is someone else's is telling: Songwriting is the one aspect of Ryder's talent that needs more development. She's well on her way, though. Check out those potent chops this Friday, February 11, at 1/2 Lounge; she might not be playing venues this small for much longer.

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Rebecca Gollin


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