The Kid's All Right

Piano woman

Woe betide the child who springs singing from the loins of a rock star.

Sure, it might be nice to have Drew Barrymore and R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe for godparents, like Frances Bean Cobain. Or to have received your first guitar from KISS' Gene Simmons, like Cher and Gregg Allman's son Elijah Blue. But children of successful musicians can be plagued by their pedigrees when they seriously start trying to make music. The shadow has been cast, people have expectations, and you've got to earn their respect. Big publicity pushes and parental guidance won't help if your music seems fake or amateurish. The critics will tear you apart. Or worse, they'll just completely ignore you, like they did David Cassidy's daughter Katie, whose 2002 cover of her father's biggest hit, "I Think I Love You," was so bland it didn't even garner a paddling from the pundits.

There are exceptions, of course: Natalie Cole, Rosanne Cash, Jeff Buckley, Arlo Guthrie, Hank Williams Jr. and Hank III, all of whom built their own fan bases and achieved an amount of success comparable to their famous fathers. But it seems like for every Natalie Cole, there are two Kelly Osbournes.

And then there is Alexa Ray Joel, the 20-year-old daughter of piano man Billy Joel and model Christie Brinkley, who seems neither doomed to failure nor destined for success. A classically trained pianist like her father, Alexa Ray just self-released her first recording, an EP titled Sketches, on August 29. The album doesn't bear the mark of a burgeoning genius so much as that of a solid, self-aware songwriter who's still fine-tuning her craft.

Stylistically, Alexa Ray isn't as pop as her pop — her songs have more of a smooth, jazzy vibe, swept along by lolling piano and soft snare beats. The compositions aren't complex; they're mostly vocal-driven with simple piano accompaniment (an exception is "Sapphire Night," which includes a brief guitar solo that butts into the ballad like a token studio moment). But Alexa Ray's soulful, lilting voice and clean melodies are enough on songs like "Come Home To Me Do" and "For All My Days," the latter of which features a very low-key, bluesy vocal that could easily stand a cappella.

Even if Alexa Ray Joel's songs are just Sketchesat this point, give her props for going the do-it-yourself route, starting with a tour of smaller venues, playing an instrument instead of doing the song-and-dance thing, and writing her own tunes. No one should accuse her of trying to ride her father's coattails. She's much happier working through her own thing, if these lines from "The Heart of Me" are any indication: "I'm so tired of hearing all these love songs meant for someone else to sing and play/I'd like to know what happened to the ones who can create something new, something true, something great/You oughta know, these melodies are my own."

 
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