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Leona Naess

Women have a lot of advantages over men. They live longer, they can use both sides of their brains at once, and they can sound delicate when singing rock songs. (No, this is not a treatise on "Women in Rock.") Male singer-songwriters who aim for fragility inevitably end up sounding wimpy, like James Taylor -- Nick Drake and Elliott Smith being the exceptions. Leona Naess rarely sounds frail on her debut; she knows how to work an emotive vulnerability and tenderness into the mix without it coming off as weakness. Her strong voice is a malleable instrument, never losing its distinctiveness, regardless of the variety of sonic settings it occupies on the dozen tracks here. Comatised takes on added depth when Naess (pronounced "Ness") opens her emotions and faults up for inspection. Sounding more mature than her 24 years, she does occasionally lapse into the pitfall of navel-gazing, but for the most part, Naess' multifaceted approach results in a complex and thoroughly enjoyable record.

Born in Norway and raised in England, Naess is the child of a Norwegian shipping magnate and the former stepdaughter of Diana Ross. Fortunately, her music isn't overshadowed by her life story. An amalgamation of folk, light alternative rock and lush pop, Naess' debut is as eclectic as her upbringing. As a songwriter, she doesn't exactly break new ground, but what makes Comatised such a winning debut is its ability to sound both familiar and fresh at the same time.

The first single, "Charm Attack" (as heard in the trailer for the teen romp Whatever It Takes), is a beefy, Sundays-meets-Sinead tribute with quick-cadence vocals and muscular guitars -- jumping the gun as the first radio song of the summer. Undeniably catchy, it's a warning to other women to avoid smooth-talking predators. With Naess' inherent delicacy and toughness co-existing, the song plays like a white, European version of TLC's "No Scrubs."

Produced by Scott Litt (R.E.M.) and Tommy D (Catatonia), tasteful patterns of drum loops, blasts of powerful guitars and unexpected song structures help bring Comatised out of the neo-folkster singer-songwriter ghetto.

On the gutter-crawling "Chase," Naess questions her choice in men, with a funky drum machine and restrained, dirty guitar guiding the verses, juxtaposed with the big rock hooks of the chorus. Through a beguiling vocal charisma, Naess proves she's equally adept at simpler tunes like the piano and vocal ditty "Northern Star." Litt and D add strings and atmospheric reverb to her voice at all the right points. Despite the studio tinkering, Naess remains the focus of it all and, it would seem, an artist to watch

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David Simutis

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