Kellee Bradley
Thurs Oct 25 at EMP's Liquid Lounge

People often encourage me to be more cruel in this column. And I understand why: How much fun is it to read polite writing? But it seems too easy to attack a Wednesday- or Thursday-night opening act. These people are not rock stars with enormous egos, with skin thick enough to weather whatever vicious affront I may think myself clever enough to devise.

For example, when One-Night Stand's photographer, Annie Marie, and I approached Kellee Bradley, this week's opener, Bradley seemed a little scared. She said something to the effect of "Oh God, I hope you didn't hate it."

It's not like Bradley goes and has a quick meeting with some ace management team after the show, hops into her limo, and is summarily whisked away to the nearest Four Seasons, where she is staying under a fake name. Instead, she comes and hangs with us little people, probably wondering whether or not we hated her show.

And did we hate her show? Two people up front loved it: They couldn't seem to get enough. I didn't love it, though. I found it ordinary, and I was bummed out to be feeling that way because, onstage and off, Kellee Bradley seems like a very sensitive, intelligent person who loves to sing.

Bradley sings very well. Her voice is strong enough that she could easily show it off, but she doesn't. Her voice's charm is subtle: She never attacks a note, but always hits it--there's the occasional crack or flutter, but for the most part, her delivery is smooth and pitch-perfect. Bradley is a natural, and you can tell she knows it. And where her set lacks in confidence and emotional honesty, her voice is always excellent. The show's highlight is an Irish a cappella song that Bradley did not write. It's a sad lyric, and she delivers it beautifully. For the first and only time, nearly everyone in the Liquid Lounge is silent, and I have chills by song's end.

Which leads me to believe that Kellee Bradley should hire a songwriter. Instead, she has a competent second guitar player, Ricardo Valenzuela, filling in gaps where no gaps actually exist. Bradley's own guitar-playing is minimal, sure. She plays two, three, maybe four chords in a song, and she doesn't do much finger-picking, but embellished guitar parts are not required in a set that's all about Bradley's voice. No, the only thing missing is raw honesty. Bradley's originals are simple, well-crafted, and without edge. "Less is More," for example, is weighed down by cliché: "I think it's time to take some chances/I think it's time to let my hair down... gotta think outside that box." Bradley's delivery is sort of precious, and the song lacks dynamics.

Most of Bradley's songs follow a simple Adult Contemporary/Young Country formula: lots of easy imagery (bandannas on foreheads, the captain of the football team, green grass, freckles) coupled with sentimental statements ("Sometimes less is more," "I just can't believe you remember this") that function as refrains. All ideas are safe and familiar. There are no awkward or stunning moments; just smooth listening, with nothing to grab onto and be moved by.

Which is why I want Bradley to employ a songwriter. She's not confident enough in her own songwriting to explore her real gift, which is singing. I want Bradley's soul up there onstage. I want someone to appreciate her talent more than she does, to stretch it and compel it. True talent should know itself well, and it should shine liberally.

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