Album Review: Ava Wolfe – Casablanca

Album Review of Ava Wolfe: Casablanca

blank CD

Blank CD; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Ava Wolfe describes this as a “pop noir” album on her SoundCloud page, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t come up with a better description. Ava’s voice is soft, sensual, sexy, and powerful, and the songs upon which she drips her dangerously delivered lyrics are those you’d expect to hear in a way-too-cool lounge that would be a modern-day descendant of Rick’s. Add the occasionally old movie audio clip, and I really can’t improve upon the term “pop noir.” The hook-laden album in all its black-and-whiteness is deliciously enticing.

It doesn’t hurt that Ava kicks Casablanca: The Album off with “xkss,” an alluring, terribly original-sounding attention-grabber. Why is this song unforgettable? It could be the slowly building, subtly dominant rhythm. It might be the oh-so-cleverly-utilized audio clips, from Casablanca to a judiciously positioned segment from Le Mans, an exceptional clip I couldn’t quite place at first. There are a lot of well-placed elements in this song, but it wouldn’t come together this spectacularly without Ava’s sultry, precise delivery. The first early release from Ava’s Casablanca album last year, “xkss” is the song that hooked me and the reason I began following Ava’s music.

Beginning to end, as you listen to this CD – especially the first few times through as you grow accustomed to the music – you realize you’re listening to something special, though you can’t quite put your finger on why. There’s something coolly seductive about Ava’s music. Much of it resides in her sensually powerful vocals, but the music and arrangements are attention-grabbingly unique, a modern sound drenched in nostalgia for something that never quite existed as it’s being presented. In the end, you’re drawn to the Ava’s songs even though you can’t help feeling as if they’re perhaps just a little too cool for you to comprehend. In any case, it’s an exceptional performance from an true pop music artist… a star who isn’t famous yet.

Indeed, it’s hard to decide which songs to highlight, as the album Casablanca itself is a work of art. The brash coldness of “cool” is a powerful, moving number that’s almost ambient at times. “m.a.f.i.a. land” adds just a dash of hip-hop to its stripped-down vibe, the song’s music sporting the bare-bones frame of a dance number, employing rhythm but at a mellower tempo. And “sapphires” is a glamorous number, with orchestration supporting a piano-esque keyboard line behind Ava’s richly breathless vocals; the delivery suggests it could only be sung by a “jewel-covered pop goddess.” And those are just the first four tracks from this 10-song collection.

I have other favorites on Casablanca, too. “jazz baby,” for example. It’s perhaps the most pop-accessible song on the disc. Ava’s vocals are sweet and rich; along with an almost folky guitar, they’re stretched across a warm string bed. The song builds and soars. The tempo changes a bit. And then the song ends abruptly; because on Casablanca, every song must be coolly different in at least one way.

“bordeaux” is a richly-sung number that gives the feeling of a jet-setting drive through the French countryside in a convertible. An Aston Martin perhaps. Or an MG. With a gorgeous, educated, seductively (that word again!) playful woman in the passenger seat. Scarf flapping in the wind. Something straight out of an old James Bond movie. Or more likely a less obvious film, one whose semi-obscurity would require a true film buff to recognize. It’s not the only song on the album that hints at that imagery, but it’s strongest with “bordeaux.”

Other favorites include “come on,” “my man (mon homme),” and the album-closer, “wheels up,” a softly brooding number, again almost ambient at times but with soaringly half-whispered, pop star-caliber vocals from Ava. And, remaining true to the style and ambiance of the entire album to the final note, “wheels up” ends by fading to black.

Ava Wolfe is a pop artist. A unique talent with a vision. And her vision, Casablanca, is a truly special collection of music.

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