Leona Naess performs November 20 at Gypsy Tea Room, with Josh Rouse.
There's no reason you should like Leona Naess. After all, taken merely as the sum of her musical influences, Diana Ross' former stepdaughter seems like a Frankenstein monster stitched together from parts of the Lilith Fair undead: Edie Brickell in the vocal phrasing, earthy-but-ethereal à la solo-era Natalie Merchant, a little Rickie Lee Jones in the quirk. But even if your tastes generally run toward harder-edged stuff, and far, far away from anything that could conceivably find a place on your local estro-centric lite-rock station, Naess' music will sneak up on you. Like Beth Orton, her songs are just a little too tough to be twee, and though they may be drenched in honeyed heartbreak, there's always something bitter or dissonant or idiosyncratic in them to fray the edges of what, in less subtle hands, would come off as schmaltzy sentimentality. Working with producer Ethan Johns, on her third, self-titled LP, Naess has crafted a more subdued and stripped-down sound than on previous releases, and playing them live, she makes like a prematurely burnt-out, seen-it-all cabaret star, pouring her worn-out heart into shape-shifting melodies, as though it's only the music now that gives her hope. And like it or not, she will seduce you.