On "So Ferocious," sexuality sounds as playful as a trip to the park.
When singer Carsie Blanton released Not Old, Not New in 2014, the album seemed like a step sideways. Her calling card before it was semi-acoustic pop rooted in the singer/songwriter tradition, but her songs are physical enough and spare enough in their arrangements that there’s not a hint of the coffee shop left in them. When Blanton cut the album of jazz standards, she saw the songs’ intelligent songwriting as the line that connected Not Old, Not New to her body of work. Her new album, So Ferocious, suggests another.
Countless performances by female jazz vocalists addressed the challenge of how to communicate sexual desire without saying the words, and desire is a constant in Blanton’s work. So Ferocious includes such titles as “Hot Night,” “Ravenous,” “Scoundrel,” and “The Animal I Am,” and the songs live up to their titles, not in raw, sexual content but as burlesque-like, playful teases. “I’ve got a dirty mind,” she sings in “Vim and Vigor,” and you can hear the sexy grin in her vocal performance. She sings in the space between the words “sex” and “kitten” with results so playful that it’s easy to imagine that her bedroom comes complete with monkey bars.
But sex songs are rarely simply about sex. More often, they’re relationship songs, and the different tones and angles in her lyrics mark Blanton as someone adept at making quick, fine line distinctions between relationships that seem similar to the naked eye. “Fat and Happy” is the easiest to distinguish as she dreams about being “fat and happy / and living high on the hog.” The chorus suggests that she’s secure enough in the love of another that dreams of losing her shape are not just permitted but are part of a game the two play.
Blanton sings the hushed, slightly tense “To Be Known” to someone whose core hope is summed up in the title, and as is often the case in Blanton’s songs, it’s deceptively complex. The song plays as a compassionate gesture to someone who has often felt overlooked, but it’s also possible to hear it as Blanton singing to herself. The “Learn” page on her website is the product of a compulsive oversharer, and it’s easy to imagine that it’s motivated by the desire to be known.
The sense of balance that allows the songs to hold multiple possible interpretations is the strength of So Ferocious. Blanton could easily come on too strong or too playful and seem desperate or silly, but neither happens. She sounds open but never simply confessional, and complex but rarely a mess. The title threatens to promise too much for the album, but “ferocious” is just theatrical enough a word to dial down expectations, particularly when accompanied on the cover by a line drawing of Blanton wearing only her panties in front of a lion.