As a teenager growing up in coastal Maine, Alice Limoges was already cutting her teeth playing guitar and singing in coffee shops and restaurants throughout the Midcoast. Now 21 and a college student in New York City, she’s certainly got a leg up on her fellow youthful competition in terms of experience — and the mature, rich, expressive vocal style she displays on her lovely new album, “As Close As You Can Be Without Touching” is undoubtedly a result of her early start.
As a songwriter, Limoges brings to mind something akin to a softer-edged Fiona Apple, or a harder-edged Sarah McLachlan — awfully, awfully pretty, but with a flair for the dramatic that creeps in on nearly every track. The title track on the album appears to be a romantic ballad, but there’s an undercurrent of, what — dread? Sadness? — that elevates it from the simple to the compelling. Elsewhere, the jazz-inflected “The Lucky One” is Limoges’ take on a torch song, “Sonnet 17” sets a Pablo Neruda poem to music in a simple piano setting, and “Never My Friend,” which could easily be a single, is one of the most high-energy tracks on the album. Much of “As Close As You Can Be” is comprised of ballads and slower-paced songs, and as such it can drag a little bit, but this is compensated for by the thoughtful orchestration — Limoges employs a full string quartet and wind section to flesh out her songs, and that attention to detail elevates everything.
Fellow Mainer Trisha Mason is also a road warrior — Mason, with her band and its ever-changing names, play in bars throughout eastern Maine nearly every weekend of the year. For her second album, “Red Sky,” Mason has amped up the distortion and the energy from her first release, “Worse or Better,” and a result, has put out a much better album. Opener “Red Sky” is a moody, Celtic-tinged rocker, which belies the rest of the album, largely comprised of feel good pop-rock, a la Pink, Melissa Etheridge or the Indigo Girls. There’s a kind of girl power element to the album that is very refreshing, as on the fun, bass-heavy “Robot Brain” or her moving ode to motherhood, “Superheroes.” Electric violin snakes its way through many of these songs, lending a unique, theatrical flair to the proceedings, nowhere better than on “Fall,” near the end of the album.
Is every song good? No. There are 16 tracks in total stretching out over nearly an hour, and four or five of them could have been trimmed to make “Red Sky” a more even effort. But what is good here is very good, infused with sweet, affable energy and a fiery attitude that always comes out when Mason plays live. And that’s where she and her music belong: on the stage, where her powerful voice and sparkling personality can truly shine through.
Trisha Mason will play at Finn’s Irish Pub in Ellsworth this Thursday and at Ramona’s in Bucksport on Saturday.