Review

After releasing a couple of albums as Awry and joining Sufjan Stevens' troupe of Illinoisemakers (as cheer captain, to be exact), Shana Worden returns from her hiatus as My Brightest Diamond. As with Awry, My Brightest Diamond's debut Bring Me the Workhorse unites elements of rock, classical, and cabaret, showcasing Worden's skills as a classically-trained vocalist and gifted arranger. Her formal training makes itself known in the range and restraint of her songs: operatic vocals and strings are inherently dramatic, but Worden doesn't overdo them. Instead, she uses them just enough to make her modern fairy tales even more evocative. Her shivery singing makes "Golden Star" a standout, while the journey from intensity to serenity on "Something of an End" and "The Robin's Jar" reflect the suite-like movement of many of her songs. While the influences of Björk, Kate Bush, Jeff Buckley, and -- in the case of the languid torch song "Gone Away" -- Nina Simone, can still be heard very clearly in My Brightest Diamond's music, Worden uses them artfully enough that almost anyone who enjoys those artists will like her work too. However, Bring Me the Workhorse also shows an impressive range of moods and feelings, ensuring that Worden never sounds derivative. "Dragonfly" has all the warmth and weightlessness of a summer breeze, the aptly-named "We Were Sparkling" twinkles like an icicle; and the spooky, late-night rock of "Freak Out" adds a witchy edge. Though the second half of Bring Me the Workhorse doesn't have quite as many memorable songs as the first half does, Worden's way with arrangements, and her sweet-but-powerful voice, make the entire album an eerily beautiful experience. ~ Heather Phares, Rovi

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