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SUDDENLY, TAMMY! (Buy CDs by this artist)
Suddenly, Tammy! (spinART) 1993
(We Get There When We Do.) (Warner Bros.) 1995

Rejecting orthodoxy in rock is both commendable and modern, but defying standards does not necessarily provide a key to anything better. So while it's true this brother-sister-high-school-pal trio from Lancaster, Pennsylvania hasn't got a guitar in its piano-based lineup (beating Ben Folds to the record racks by several years), Suddenly, Tammy! is ultimately less notable for what it is than what it's not.

The overly polite indie-label debut sidesteps the likely Carole King comparisons, mostly because the delicate melodies aren't memorable enough and Beth Sorrentino hasn't got that strong or distinctive a voice. (She is, however, a skillful pianist.) Lacking the cynical gloss of the mainstream pop to which it aspires — as well as the idealistic eccentricity of rock's underground — the self-produced Suddenly, Tammy! offers only the aesthetic paradox of an attractive bore.

(We Get There When We Do.) exchanges the debut's uncertain goals for a tiresome fit of arty adulthood, using delicate watercolors rather than bright fingerpaints. Ken Heitmueller's fretless bass is a tip-off of the elevated ambition borne out in the elliptical songs; produced by Warne Livesey, the album is precious in both word and sound. Wielding her soprano confidently while her bandmates take a more prominent role in the arrangements, Sorrentino places the enigmatic lyrics like a sculptor, making good use of natural imagery in "Snowman," "River, Run" and "Beautiful Dream" before stumbling into the affected realism of "I just finished braiding my hair/My head's been wet all day." Back to the showers.

[Ira Robbins]
   See also Lilys