I guess it surprises people when I tell them that I'm a fan of Michelle Branch's music. Mostly, because my tastes tend to skew toward rock and alt rock. My admiration of the the pop hooks and diary confessional writing of Branch's music and lyrics goes back to when she released her first major label effort, "The Spirit Room" in 2001.
I was working weekends in radio and was just fed up with the heavy play of boy bands (i.e., Backstreet Boys/N'Sync/O-Town/98 Degrees) and Barbie-clones like Britney, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, and Mandy Moore. To me, it was a sign of The Apocalypse (my daughter's most-used phrase these days) that the charts were dominated by such crap.
And then…Along came a song called "Everywhere" by some kid named Michelle Branch.
During my weekly air-shift, my show was interrupted with what was then called "The Fox Family Countdown" (Now "Fox All Access"). It's a weekly countdown of the top 20 requests of the week as voted by a throng of teens who call in every week with their picks.
Anyway, each week Fox would spotlight a song that they wanted "the kids" to weigh in on. One week, they featured Michelle Branch's "Everywhere," and I thought it was a really great pop song. I loved the fact that it was a guitar-heavy song with a singer who wasn't interested in Mariah Carey-like vocal gymnastics.
One Google search later, and I was happy to see that Michelle played guitar (started playing at 14) and wrote her own lyrics. Sure she was working with John Shanks — who went on to be a major force in the music biz by co-writing/producing similar sounding songs for Avril, Kelly Clarkson, and Ashlee Simpson — but it was a good match that proved to be a much needed "correction" to the pop landscape in 2001.
After Branch's tepid follow-up in 2003 with "Hotel Paper," she sort of disappeared from the music scene. After getting married, having a kid, and doing two songs with Santana that sounded pretty much the same, she was close to calling it quits in the biz.
Then she met Jessica Harp and formed a close friendship that resulted in a new musical direction for her. She was no longer "Michelle Branch" solo artist. Rather, she was part of the alt country pop duo, The Wreckers. They released a couple of songs prior to the release of their full album "Stand Still, Look Pretty," but now the album is out and they are getting a lot hype.
"Leave the Pieces" sounds mostly like a Michelle Branch song with country flourishes, but I think it's a really strong single that's currently doing very well on the country charts. "Pieces" may cross-over to the pop and adult contemporary charts now that Bon Jovi has a hit with "Who Says You Can't Go Home" with Jennifer Nettles.
The title track, "Stand Still, Look Pretty" is a ballad that goes back to Branch's more confessional writing and highlights the downside of being a female pop star who wants to be a serious musician in the era where "The Image" is more important than the craft of songwriting.