- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2003

Nelly Furtado

Folklore

Dreamworks Records

Nelly Furtado’s “Folklore,” the three-years-in-the-making follow-up to “Whoa, Nelly!,” dispels the notion she harps on in the opening cut: that she’s merely a “one-trick pony.”

The Canadian singer-songwriter insists she’s unpigeonhole-able, and she’s right. But versatility is a neutral virtue; it depends on how well a pony performs its other tricks.

“Folklore,” always ear-catching, often dazzling, is Miss Furtado’s take-me-seriously sophomore album. If you thought her hit single “I’m Like a Bird” was just sugary junk food from a pop lightweight, she’s out to prove you wrong.

Working with the same production team of Brian West and Gerald Eaton (aka Track and Field), she’s only partly convincing here.

A formidable singer — albeit with a voice that’s often on the tinny side — Miss Furtado has also shown herself a tad immature. She has yet to absorb the rule that less is more: that vocal athletics will get you only so far.

As a songwriter, however, Miss Furtado, who turns 25 next month, has found a wellspring of inspiration from her ethnic roots. Her parents were born in the Azores, a cluster of islands off the coast of Portugal where she formulated her plans for a dizzyingly international album.

“Folklore’s” opening twofer, “One-Trick Pony” and “Powerless (Say What You Want),” mislead you into thinking she followed her inspiration to its fullest potential. Both cuts come from the same tasty brew of ethnic folk, bossa nova and hip-hop, which she returns to on the mantra-brandishing “Forca” (featuring legendary jazz banjoist Bela Fleck) and later on “Island of Wonder.”

The Kronos Quartet joins her on “Pony,” along with George Doering on banjo, mandolin, cavaquinho (a precursor to the ukulele) and Hawaiian mini-guitar. Steve Carnelli takes over on banjo and mandolin on “Powerless,” the album’s first single.

The caffeinated dance-pop of “Explode” is the first sputter — a sign that Miss Furtado still has one foot in the field and one foot in the club.

It’s another example, too, of the singer spitting out lyrics in such rapid bursts that she thinks the listener won’t notice how insipid they are: “We’re counting the stars / We’re not very far / And it’s you and me in the open air / It’s truth or dare, we don’t care.”

The repetitive rump-shaker “Fresh Off the Boat” is a profession of her working-class roots, complete with a stream of Portuguese lyrics. The bouncy island vibe will fall on chilly ears at least until next summer.

Miss Furtado eventually veers into Hendrixian soul on the look-at-that-stud “Picture Perfect” and churchy theatricality on “Childhood Dreams.”

She’s at her most endearing, though, on the simple acoustic ditty “Saturdays,” on which a back-up vocalist’s jokey falsetto has her in stitches. In that fleeting lapse, Miss Furtado realizes it’s OK — indeed, it’s essential — not to take oneself too seriously.


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