The tracks on “Steady Eye Shaky Bow
” that catch attention have a sultry, dangerous vibe about them; the tracks that don’t work sound like average jazz standards.
Choffel kicks off her latest album with “Archer,” from which the album takes its title. The jagged rhythms and herky-jerky propulsion of the verses are met by a low, smooth chorus; she connects the parts by applying her come-hither alto to both. Her controlled but powerful performance is an immediate attention-grabber.
She follows with “Raincloud,” which features a few less jagged edges, but a whole lot more attitude in the horn-packed arrangement and a brash vocal performance. There’s still an edge, and it’s the undercurrent that keeps things fresh.
“So the Story Goes” is the first of the forgettable tracks; it’s nice, but who wants to be remembered as pleasant when “dangerous/fascinating” is on the table? “Animal” redeems the former track by investing a similar pleasant acoustic backdrop with a powerful vocal performance of an excellent melody and lyric (“You’re a liar / And that’s what kind of animal you are / You are, you are!” — ouch).
But the highlight of the whole shebang is “Stumble,” which turns toward Portishead-style trip-hop as a vehicle for Choffel’s pipes. Mildly distorting the vocals only makes the song all the more haunting (and brilliant).
The back half of the album isn’t as interesting; “Hold of the Night” tries to appropriate the earlier fire, but it’s not there in her voice. “Racecar” is solid, but the melody isn’t as memorable, and the vibe not as fine-tuned. The spare acoustic closer “Come Clean” is one of her only moments of effective vulnerability, but it makes for a nice conclusion to the album.
The high points of “Steady Eye Shaky Bow” are so high that they make the low ones stick out badly. Ignore the chaff and enjoy the excellent, sultry tunes. —Stephen Carradini