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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, May 17, 2002

Going swimmingly Going swimmingly (May 17, 2002)

Palo Altan Allette Brooks has talent and personality to burn "Swim With Me" Allette Brooks MMM

by Marc Burkhardt

Folk music, like hope, springs eternal.

From medieval minstrels to Vanity Fair poets, the appeal of a single voice conveying basic truths has endured for millenia. In America, folk music has often served as an antidote to overcooked pop music. Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger offered a politically astute alternative after swing went stale. Joan Baez and Bob Dylan brought adult sentiments to popular music while rock wallowed in the prepackaged pubescence of Frankie and Annette.

Given the sorry state of pop in the 21st century, it would seem the time is ripe for a new folk explosion. The prevalence of young, hip singer-songwriters -- which include acoustic studs like Jack Johnson and sultry sirens like Norah Jones -- indicates listeners may be ready for music that hits a little deeper than the latest J-Lo/Ja Rule "duet."

If folkies do make a comeback, Palo Altans need look no further than their back yard to find the real deal. Allette Brooks, a Stanford graduate who avoided the temptations of dot-com greed, offers a fiery brand of folk that compares favorably to such mavericks as Ani DiFranco and Michelle Shocked.

The Palo Altan's third release, "Swim With Me" (2001), is an engaging collection of personal and political observations that avoid the serious sentimentality that often mars modern folk. When the writing and playing click, as on the relentlessly catchy "Okavango," the album leaves a remarkably strong impression for a small-scale indie effort. On the rare occasions where the writing falters (the topical "Rolling Blackout" and serio-comic "Same Room" probably work better in concert, where personality can overcome undercooked concepts), Brooks' good humor and spirited vocals still manage to carry the day.

Lyrically, Brooks fares best chronicling interpersonal relationships. Songs like "Firefly" and "Never Was" are eloquent in their straightforward simplicity, painting indelible images of lost loves and fond friendships. "Loverly," an adaptation of "Wouldn't it be Loverly" from Lerner and Lowe's "My Fair Lady," is an enjoyable left-turn that further separates Brooks from the coffeehouse club.

Centered around Brooks' acoustic guitar, the songs shift playfully from folk to pop to country. Just when it seems a song might grow overly precious, a well-timed harmonica blat or tasteful violin lick keeps matters on track.

A tireless performer, Brooks has gigged at more than 100 cities and towns, hitting a staggering 150 shows in 25 states two years ago. "Swim With Me" indicates this folk singer-songwriter has talent and personality to burn, making her a good bet for anyone tired of silicon implants masquerading as pop stars.
Allette Brooks will perform on Sunday from 2-4 p.m. at Borders Books Music, 456 University Ave. in Palo Alto. Admission is free. For more information call (650) 326-3670 or visit

Totally rad
MMM Righteous
MM Phlat
M Most unworthy


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