Heather Thornton really means the first lines of her new album “Obvious”: “You should plan on staying here all night/I’ve got a lot of things to say to you,” she sings in the jazz-clubby “My Love Is Free.”
It’s good advice because the album doesn’t lend itself to disappearing into the background. It’s an active listen that touches on a lot of musical bases over the course of its 10 original tracks.
That opener, written by Thornton herself, is driven as much by Caleb Aldrich’s smooth sax accompaniment as the sprightly lead vocal and clever turns of phrase. It leads into the darker and bluesy “Fish in a Bowl,” built on a simple descending bass line, where Thornton lets loose with a few pointed wails.
The mysterious “Obvious” is the album’s first foray into a distinctive show tunes vibe. Its spare arrangement of piano and minimal drums, accented by a sexily stuttering trumpet solo by E.E. Pointer, mashes with Thornton’s precise and intimate vocal to produce a recording that might well have originated in a creative theater workshop.
But next up, the disc turns to the Jewel-like country folk of “The Damage is Done,” showcasing another facet of Thornton’s malleable singing. “The River’s” slide guitar and tales of free-flowing water and whiskey continue the country theme with a bit of bluegrass for good measure — until the aggressive come-ons of “Turn the Lights Down Low” return things to the jazz realm again.
“This Is Me, This Is You” is another show-tuney torcher, before the duo of “Too Many Things” and “Paranoid” takes the album in more of a ’60s rock direction. “Things” meanders a bit with its simple acoustic guitar and electric bass, but “Paranoid” brings out a more focused and direct Jefferson Airplane acid fuzz.
The closing “On My Way” showcases another powerful vocal performance, again hitting on the album’s theatrical torch song side.
Viewed as a whole, the variety of “Obvious” makes it hard to classify. Its capable production and recording sound like a real band playing together live, and that’s a good way to present a singer who’s earned her chops on the live stage. Thornton and co-writer/co-producer/multi-instrumentalist William Saunders have put together a single package that exhibits a performer with strengths in more than just one genre.