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.