Canadian born Claudia Norris has steadily carved out a reputation for herself as a blossoming pop singer/songwriter and her latest EP effort, Shine, does a lot to further expand and burnish that renown. Whatever faults individual listeners might have with the performances and material, Norris has consciously positioned herself as a strong DIY alternative to the cookie-cutter parade of facile talents employing a small army of collaborators to produce even a three minute thirty second single. Each of the EP’s four songs is artful confections that, nevertheless, represent Norris unbridled and far from beholden to commercial considerations.
Make no mistake, however, that her instincts for radio-friendly material aren’t unerring. The EP’s opener, “Tonight”, drives that point home. “Tonight” moves with seductive physicality amidst a colorful cloud of keyboards and light electronica. The tasteful addition of guitars to the mix peppers the track with some edgy flavor, but its Norris’ rough and ready voice imbuing the song with much of its grit and gravitas. The album’s title track lightly nods to her Nashville influences without ever sliding into outright country music, but Norris’ vocal is, once again, the wings upon which the track truly soars. This statement is best illustrated by her contributions to the chorus – her voice elevates it from being merely a pleasing pop music moment into something much grander and completely spellbinding.
If the title track avoided embracing its country music influences too tightly, “Sunny Afternoon” doesn’t shy away at all from a rib-busting embrace. The song has an appealing, deep in the pocket groove that the rhythm section expertly handles while country guitar licks surprise listeners with their soulfulness and fluency. Norris shows off her startling range here in different ways than the EP’s other songs and it results in one of the releases’ more memorable moments. Beautiful piano playing is a highlight of Shine’s finale, “Marry You”, but equally impressive is how seamlessly Norris adopts R&B vocal poses into her already inventive singing. Some of the instrumentation doesn’t sound live, particularly the drums, but it never cuts against the organic qualities of the track. It never sounds constructed and has unique immediacy and intimacy.
This release solidifies Norris’ position as one of the most promising young songwriters working today. The talent level, while high, is still quite raw and one can certainly expect that she’ll continue to hone and creatively narrow her focus over the coming years. However, Shine is a complete experience from a vocalist who can apparently do it all and tries to. There are a number of thoughtful, rousing, and outright entertaining moments on this release and it’s sure to satisfy devotees of a number of genres.
9 out of 10 stars.
– Jason Hillenburg