Given her work in the past with the Softies and Tiger Trap, it’s not surprising that Rose Melberg’s Homemade Ship is built with a humble simplicity that puts her striking melodies on display. The album, though, goes beyond simplicity, sounding almost spartan — nearly every song is just Melberg’s voice over finger-picked acoustic guitar. But these hushed folk songs work and draw you in because of their simple constructs, and not in spite of them.
This kind of laid-bare sound is rarely given credit for being daring. But that is just how this record sounds. There is nowhere for Melberg to hide on Homemade Ship. These melodies have to be tight and striking, the songs affecting without any easy adornments. And, uniformly, they are. To hear “Bear in a Cave” — in which Melberg sings, “My watch has long since stop keeping the time, hours and days are the same thing,” guitar notes cascading behind her — is to be completely won over by her bittersweet charm.
Songs like “Moon Singer” and “The Whistle Calling You” find Melberg wanting but hopeful. There’s some disconnect between her and the person she’s singing to, and her isolation is driven home by these arrangements. But she, and the music, are always reaching toward light, never giving in to solitary navel gazing. The sentimental looking back of “Things That We Do” or “Old Days” should be overly cutesy and easily dismissed, but they’re not. Instead, they find Melberg completely and earnestly lost in a moment, even haunted by it, and her voice commands attention as its restraint renders her airy sound tense with emotion.
It isn’t anyone who can pull off this kind of success. In just 30 minutes, and nothing but her own delicate sound (excluding occasional light touches of piano and vocals from Larissa Loyva), Melberg proves all over again that she is a dynamic songwriter and downright arresting performer. Homemade Ship may make a smaller splash initially than other records in 2009, but its ripple will likely last longer than most.