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CD REVIEW: Emma Jo - Waiting to Be Heard
By Chip Withrow - 03/11/2007 - 03:08 PM EDT

Artist: Emma Jo
Album: Waiting to Be Heard
CD Review: Compared to other singing, songwriting acoustic performers I’ve reviewed, Emma Jo is good. But for a 15-year-old, she’s great. Waiting to Be Heard is a brave, bold statement; with just her voice and her guitar, she shows her talent and her potential.

These are songs that, for the most part, will hold up over time. As Emma Jo gets older, she may want to consider reworking some of them – rewriting the lyrics as she gains more life experience, maybe fronting a band.

“If We Don’t Have Each Other” has a Mellencamp-like everyman message, and her assured voice grabbed my attention right away. On “Your Lies,” her voice is plaintive, and she adds her own background vocals. Both songs show her touch for writing a strong chorus hook (“I can’t count on you/but I can count on your lies” is a nifty turn of phrase).

Her Hurricane Katrina-influenced “The Waters Rise” is ominous and mature beyond her years. As a bonus track, the disc includes a full-band version of this song with slippery Delta guitar work by Kris Schnebelen.

The title cut and “Tough Enough” are two songs that may benefit lyrically from the wisdom that comes with age. Her voice hits some pretty notes in the chorus to “Waiting.”

“Johnny Let Her Go” is spunky, with a singalong chorus. It’s one song that sounds like something a teenager would sing (and that’s great, of course, so Emma Jo can turn on her peers to folk rock), with plenty of girl-done-wrong attitude. It just begs for someone banging a tambourine in the background.

In the CD notes, Emma Jo calls Bruce Springsteen an influence, and “I Will Love You” bears a resemblance to Springsteen’s “If I Should Fall Behind.” Although Emma Jo doesn’t mention her as an influence, I also noticed some similarity to Jewel’s sound in the title cut and the mellow bounce of “Walk in the Rain.”

(She also states that she digs the overlooked Southside Johnny. As a major Southside fan myself, I think “Count on Your Lies” would be a powerhouse with a full soul band.)

A couple of my high school journalism students have been writing about acoustic music lately, and they have discovered that it’s a broad spectrum. But they haven’t found many teenagers performing it, so I’m going to have them check out this disc.

And if some “image consultant” comes along and tells Emma Jo that, with some changes, he can make her a country/pop superstar, I hope she avoids that advice. She’s fine right now, and she should continue to grow into being a smart, individualistic singer/songwriter.

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