TERRY GROSS, host:
Sarah Blasko is a singer-songwriter from Sydney, Australia who recently made her American debut with her third album, "As Day Follows Night." Blasko says its a cycle songs about a love triangle done in the manner of early Carol King and Leonard Cohen.
Music critic Milo Miles has a review.
(Soundbite of song, "Hold On My Heart")
Ms. SARAH BRASKO (Singer-songwriter): (Singing) All these lost and these lonesome times. You can't please somebody, can't please somebody else, until you learn to look after yourself. You can't be somebody, can't be somebody else. You've learned your lesson, put in on the shelf. Hold on my heart. Hold on my heart. Find your stronger parts. Hold on my heart.
MILO MILES: I want to start talking about Sarah Blasko's "As Day Follows Night" by noting how a music critic can introduce you to a record that delights you -partly in thanks, partly because it doesn't happen to me as much as it used to. The critic in question is Blasko's fellow Australian, Robert Forster, formerly one of the songwriting co-leaders of The Go-Betweens. Turns out he's an astute, articulate judge of other musicians' work, and without the Blasko review in Forster's book, "The 10 Rules of Rock and Roll," I never would have picked up on "As Day Follows Night."
When you're in sync with a music writer, you usually have one of two responses to his observations. Either I hear what you hear, but it doesn't mean the same thing to me; or I hear what you hear and I'm with you. Forster got me to listen to Blasko by selling her through the basics - her sound and her words.
The sound springs from Blasko's collaboration with Swedish producer Bjorn Yttling. I know, I've never heard of him either. A good shorthand way to explain his approach is to say that he frames voices and songs rather like the American, Jon Brion, who has a flair for producing singer-songwriters like Aimee Mann and Rufus Wainwright. On "As Day Follows Night," you feel intimate with the singer's voice right away, and only later notice inventive music touches that round out everything. Like the brilliant musical saw on "All I Want."
(Soundbite of song, "All I Want")
Ms. BLASKO: (Singing) I don't want another lover. So don't keep holding out your hands. There's no room beside me. I'm not looking for romance. Say I'll be here, I'll be here, but there's no way you'd understand.
All I want. All I want. All I want. When I don't even know myself.
MILES: There's rare pleasures in the plainness and specifics of Blasko lines like when all your life you waited for someone to understand, to wake you up and speak your name. Blasko's theme is as old as romance itself - an intricate, volatile relationship that alternates between joyful affirmation and collapse. Relationship albums may seem like obvious undertakings, but they are challenging. Earlier this year, the gifted Tracey Thorn released a similar-themed album that was flatter and more predictable than "As Day Follows Night." Part of the reason Blasko succeeds is old-fashion warmth and soul, but part is melodies that tug hard on the ear.
Catchiness isn't everything - by itself, it can be mechanical. But if touched by verve and savvy, catchiness is an asset. And after a couple of listens, you will recognize every track on Blasko's album with pleasure. Even the anguish of "I Never Knew."
(Soundbite of song, "I Never Knew")
Ms. BLASKO: (Singing) It's not enough, it's not enough for both of us. This love I feel won't reach into your heart. Though it hurts inside, to find my pride so altered. I let you go, to find your way alone.
I never knew it would hurt like this. To let someone go against my wishes. All I can do is hope and pray. That you'll find your way.
It's not enough...
MILES: You wouldn't expect an introspective album about love's torments to be headlong rocking, but more important, Blasko avoids the temptation to be too slow and sluggish, of confusing meditation with moping. You don't expect a happy ending to the romance, exactly, but Blasko makes you pull for her happiness with determined numbers like "No Turning Back," which makes letdowns like "Lost & Defeated" cut with jagged edges.
Then, at the last moment, in the wistful finale "Night and Day," Blasko affirms that, whatever the outcome of love, the game is worth it. And you accept that's happiness enough.
GROSS: Milo Miles reviewed "As Day Follows Night" from Sarah Blasko. You can listen to three tracks from it on our website, freshair.npr.org.
Coming up, TV critic David Bianculli celebrates a couple of golden anniversaries that have not been celebrated on TV.
This is FRESH AIR.