Engaging folk with a dash of blues


POSTED: Friday, June 26, 2009

The first female artist signed to Jack Johnson's label, Brushfire Records, Zee Avi's debut is an engaging and insinuating bit of folk-based rock that portends a solid career ahead of her.




'Zee Avi'

        Zee Avi

(Brushfire Records)




These must be heady times for the 23-year old Malaysian singer-songwriter who, according to Rolling Stone, was signed by Johnson after discovering her with the help of Patrick Keeler. The Raconteurs drummer saw a video she posted of herself on YouTube singing an original Christmas tune.

That song, “;No Christmas for Me,”; appeared on last year's Brushfire Christmas compilation.

Avi possesses a light and appealing voice, similar in sound to Norah Jones and Zooey Deschanel, but you can also hear hints of two of her heroes' style and inflection, jazz icons Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.

While Avi occasionally has fine accompaniment from members of Johnson and Matt Costa's bands, as well as Ozomatli, throughout her album—which wasn't hard to set up, since she recorded it at Johnson's solar-powered Los Angeles studio—it's when she's by herself that she really shines.




Zee Avi



Two songs at opposite ends of each other, “;Honey Bee”; is a folky rumination on the feelings of isolation, while “;Kantoi”; is a little fun bit with ukulele, sung in the pidgin dialect of Manglish, a combination of Malay and English.

Avi keeps the darkness at bay with her generally light approach, as heard on the album's leadoff single “;Bitter Heart”; and “;Poppy,”; addressed to a former lover and heroin addict.