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LAVENDER DIAMOND (Buy CDs by this artist)
The Cavalry of Light EP (Matador) 2005 + 2007
Imagine Our Love (Matador) 2007
BECKY STARK
Artifacts of the Winged (self-released) 2003

Becky Stark, vocalist of the L.A. combo Lavender Diamond, has the potential to be the next patron saint of poetic teenaged girls who feel the weight of the world too deeply. They'll know that Becky understands, she really, really does. Virtually anyone else who comes into musical contact with her could be forgiven for feeling instantly sui- or homicidal. Combining the loopiest aspects of Tori Amos and Victoria Williams with the let's-hug-the-world attitude of a hippie earth mother and the eager-to-please "I wuv evwybody" faith of a good cocker spaniel, Stark can indeed be hard to take. However, she possesses a strong, beautiful voice and, with the considerable help of her ace backing band, can deliver a damn fine pop song that even the most cynical grump could grudgingly admire.

Named for the lead character in an opera the classically trained Stark composed (material from which forms her rare solo album), Lavender Diamond performs gentle folk rock not far removed from 10,000 Maniacs (and their offshoot, John and Mary). Stark's lyrics aim for uplift, and are usually very simple and repetitive. When they work, the effect can be mesmerizing; when they don't, the word excruciating isn't quite descriptive enough.

The Cavalry of Light EP is a less-than-stellar calling card, consisting of four soporific songs that drag more ploddingly than an octogenarian on their way to church. Skip it. The band hits a better balance on Imagine Our Love. While Stark's lyrics have a fair share of wince-inducing pseudo-profundities ("I'll never stop a bullet / But a bullet might stop me"), the upbeat music keeps things moving along nicely. When everything clicks just right, the results can be magnificent: "Open Your Heart" is a perfect, soaring piano-driven pop song in which Stark's simple repetition of the syllable "oh" manages to channel all the glory of a summer day. Nothing else is anywhere near as great, but that leaves plenty of room for good, most notably "Like an Arrow" (for the music, not the lyrics, which consist almost entirely of the endlessly repeated title) and "When You Wake for Certain." Stark toes the line between charmingly flaky and just plain annoying a little too closely for her own good, but for the most part she stays on the charming side, with only occasional complete groaners like "Side of the Lord" to keep the listener on guard.

[Brad Reno]