Mara Measor‘s eponymous debut album is a late summer treat, a collection of songs colored by a diverse palette that span roots in folk, jazz and alt-rock, with a splash of arty chamber pop thrown in. Her stylistic range merges into a studied sound that’s both memorable and intellectually satisfying. (Kudos to album producer Jamie Lawrence for his light touch and diverse approach to framing Measor’s music.)
Her bio compares her to a mashup of Jason Mraz and Regina Spektor, but Measor’s artistic scope also reminds me of a Jane Siberry, an idiosyncratic Canadian singer-songwriter who’s less known because she’s marched to a different drum all her career. Measor’s music has a broad appeal so I hope that she won’t have to work the margins of the mainstream and can break through to a wider audience.
“Mara” deserves to be heard. It opens with insistent acoustic strumming that punctuates the desperation of “Desperate for You,” and the track introduces Measor’s supple, sultry voice, which can soar from a whisper to a full-throated roar, matched by an arrangement that builds when it needs to and then returns to a plaintive piano and Measor’s solo strumming to let the listener back down.
The tracks that follow showcase her sensibility with mostly downbeat ballads and mellow swing and her wordsmithing — the only cover on the album is Coldplay’s “The Scientist.”
Like “Desperate for You,” “Can’t Speak” begins softly but then roars to life before quieting down again. Measor often explores the dynamics of a song to great emotional effect. “Ready” is a powerful song of resignation, not for a lost romance, but over someone close to her who’s dying. “I’m ready to let you go; ready for you to go somewhere better; somewhere your tears disappear.”
“You Said” is a plaintive piano ballad that cleverly juxtaposes lyrics: “You said you loved me, so when did I become unlovely; you said that I’m beautiful, so when did beauty leave me, when was I beautiful no more.” “Boys Don’t Cry” gets in your head and bounces around until you find yourself humming it hours later.
“Forever by the Sea” evokes the simple pleasures of living out a lasting love, with a fun breezy melody accompanied by Measor on ukulele, and a double-tracked high harmony that makes it another earworm of a song. The uke also makes an appearance on “Serenade,” a sweet lyric of longing about connecting across the room with another musician.
Measor slips into voices as appropriate for each song. She sings the deeply romantic “Eurydice” like a storyteller leaning in to share her tale in a whisper, then builds as the narrative unfolds. It’s gotta be the only pop song ever to reference the Greek tragedy of Orpheus, who went to Hades to retrieve his beloved Eurydice, only to lose her at the threshold of the Gates of Hell. Measor transposes the myth to a contemporary romance and the listener is drawn in for the entire story.
She drops to a lower, sultry register for the final track, “Your Bride” sung in a sexy moan. The slow jazzy blues adds a late-night smokiness that’s a perfect coda to “Mara.”
One of Measor’s most aching songs, “I Want to Love You,” is sung partly in Mandarin. Several numbers later on the playlist, Measor sings the intimate folk song-like melody of “Blossom” in Cantonese.
The multilingual tracks reflect Measor’s hapa background: Her mother is Chinese and her father is English, and she was born and raised in Hong Kong. She currently lives in New York City, where she spent the last year recording “Mara.”
I was fortunate enough to meet Measor during the V3 Conference of Asian American Digital Media last summer, and purchased an advance copy of her CD. She performed several songs during an award ceremony, including a fun mashup of Fun’s “Some Nights” with Hacken Lee’s “Red Sun,” a Mandarin pop song.
Afterward, I had the chance to spend some time with her during a reception and found her to be thoughtful, articulate and worldly, with an appreciation for the arts and pop culture that belies her youth.
Her maturity and her artistic vision as a musician add to her appeal, and explains how such a fine album could be the product of a fresh young talent.
Here’s Measor performing the medley of Fun’s “Some Nights” with Hacken Lee’s “Red Sun.” She performed this at V3 and caught the crowd’s attention with her effusive spirit and musical talent.
Here’s “I Want To Love you” from the album:
Here’s a “Behind the Scenes” promo video: