Sound: When you hear some of the tracks on Tristan Prettyman's latest album Hello, it becomes apparent that the singer-songwriter is an old soul with a knack for blues. While the CD isn't flawless, it is understandable why singer-songwriter Jason Mraz invited Prettyman to perform on his national tour a few years back. Her 2nd full-length CD works the best when Prettyman doesn't try to conform to the sound that you hear everyday on the radio from the likes of John Mayer or Jack Johnson. The 25-year-old singer has a soulful, bluesy approach that is highlighted by pedal steel on the album, and she is at her best when she stays away from an overproduced sound.
Prettyman's acoustic work is prominent on the album along with her breathy, sultry vocals, and those two aspects in many ways drive the album. But the songs really come alive when the pedal steel is introduced into the equation. Tracks like Hello, Handshake Agreement, and California Girl are filled with the sound of pedal steel, and that one instrument alone brings the song a raw, bluesy feel. We weren't provided with the liner notes for the album, but I don't think it's actually Prettyman behind the pedal steel. In any case, kudos to the guest musician who is such a key player on Hello.
At times Prettyman does begin to sound a little too similar to the multiple acoustic singer-songwriters that are fueling the radio these days. It has more to do with how the songs are arranged, and that result might simply have been the decision of the producers Sacha Skarbek and Martin Terefe (both of whom have produced KT Tunstall's work). Echo and War Outta Peace are examples of when the songs tend to get into John Mayer territory for lack of a better description, but it's likely that there is a big section of the public that will eat it up.
Prettyman exudes emotion on plenty of the tracks, but the final song In Bloom is the most moving on the entire album. Rather than it sounding like a folk-rock track or even a bluesy number, it feels more like a melancholy jazz standard. If there's any guitar on the track, it's extremely minimal. With just a piano and a subtle string section, Prettyman takes on a completely different sound and In Bloom allows you to see her in a light that doesn't evoke images of the typical acoustic singer-songwriter. // 8
Lyrics: Prettyman sings mostly about love and the problems that arise in relationships, but she's able to make the traditional topics fresh via her bluesy delivery. There's an ebb and flow with her lyrics, and at some points Prettyman writes some extremely thought-provoking lines. Still, the schmaltzy factor might turn some listeners off. Blindfold is one such example with lyrics like, You swim in and out of my heart; Like a fish in a bowl; It's getting warmer with summer approaching; But still my feet are cold. Yes, it's sweet and sentimental, but there is still somewhat of a cheese factor to it. // 7
Overall Impression: You're in for a laid-back, mellow experience when you listen to Hello, but Prettyman has a distinct, pleasing quality that keeps things fresh from track to track. There are a few songs that scream radio single, and that's simply for the fact that they do conform to what we're hearing with a lot of other singer-songwriters in the music world. Prettyman is at her best when she doesn't follow the rules and strips the production down. At times you'll just hear percussion and at other moments only an extremely simple acoustic line, but it's in those moments when the core song comes through and Hello feels the most genuine. // 8