Solace for the Lonely (Dualtone)

Making her debut for Dualtone, singer-songwriter Robinella Contreras steps up to the plate with new assurance and freedom. She and the CC String Band (which still backs her, though its name has been dropped) made a good-natured impression with 2003's self-titled effort for Columbia, but label expectations of "the next Alison Krauss" stifled Contreras' introspective, country-bluegrass sound.

On Solace, her confidence blossoms as she wanders a wide world of pop music. Comparisons to Norah Jones, Dolly Parton, and Billie Holiday should cease, as Contreras' honeyed vocals sound free, relaxed, and quite her own throughout these 13 songs. "Break It Down Baby" is a welcoming introduction to her honest-to-goodness approach. "Come Back My Way" and "Down the Mountain" are classic Americana in warm, summery tones. Contreras even gets a little funky. The high-spirited groove of "Little Boy" (a tribute to her son) and the smooth jazz of "All I've Given" really showcase her gifts. Producer Doug Lancio (Nanci Griffith, Patty Griffin) and her CC String Band mates contribute richly to Solace's beauty and wonder.

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