Laguna Beach's reputation for being its own little enclave isn't just geographic or economic or what-have-you--it somehow seems like a holdover dream for music, half-baby-boomer-friendly airwaves, half-"chill out and look at the ocean" zone of the digital synth new age variety. (And we've received plenty of examples of the latter over time.) Laguna native Halle Ford has something a little different on her debut album, Pretty Girl, though--if recent years have seen an explosion of performers working in a theoretically rock/pop form with a wide variety of lead instruments, from piano to harp to (if you count P.J. Harvey these days) autoharp, then Ford fits right in with her violin as the lead.
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The other element that might help place Ford in a context is her voice--high and swooping, not squeaking, but happily pursuing its own path. Again, it's a contextual difference rather than a unique one--she might not be fronting Paramore, but Nellie McKay or Feist are closer companions. Meanwhile, the steady rock swagger in songs such as "Somethin' 2 Say" and "Force of Nature" are steady and sculpted, the kind of thing that could still work at a noisier club, even if they don't explode all over the place.
That said, it's not just rock meets strings; much of the album has an understated lope going on instead of a full-bodied crunch. "Dusty Ohio" is a calm, gently beautiful number featuring piano and some of her best singing on the album, while the shimmering "Secret" could be country, could be folk, could be whatever you want to call it, but it definitely has a gentle, reflective feeling that feels like a late-night summer ramble.
Above all else, she's just a darn-good violinist, and there are points where the resonance on her chosen instrument matches her singing so well--the lovely "The Moon" is a great example--that it's suddenly attention grabbing. At others--as on the moody, dramatic start to "Back Again" before the full arrangement kicks in, or the mesmerizing instrumental solo "Sunset"--it's so striking on its own that you almost wish it could just go on forever that way. When she wraps up with "Empty Ocean," it's a different kind of feeling of looking out over the beach than one would expect from Laguna. Not bad for a local debut--let's see what might happen next.
Quick word of warning, though--make sure you have the volume turned down a bit when you visit her website.