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CD Reviews: Kay Hanley
Kay Hanley: Cherry Marmalade
October 2003
By: Sara Zeno
album cover of Kay Hanley's Cherry Marmalade

In a music culture full of sonic sugar rushes, Kay Hanley's Cherry Marmalade is a delectable treat with substance. A mature woman and stunning mother with industry experience to back her up, she's an intelligent counterpoint to the current slew of exhaustively produced pre-fab princesses.

Husband Mike Eisenstein partners with her by co-writing six of the album's songs and playing guitar throughout. Both formerly of the amicably separated Letters to Cleo, they are proving it is possible to successfully combine the personal with professional.

Hanley's indelible voice soars across the album, dipping and gliding over phrasings both delicate and tough. In her writing, she's particularly adept at creating perceptive imagery that triggers an immediate reaction, such as this vision from Faded Dress: Like a grade school valentine / My heart is asking and aching all the time.

This Dreadful Life is a zestful call to embrace life through all its complications and seize everything this dreadful life has got to adore, a deft twist on the expected word "endure," showing that a slight change in perception makes all the difference. The song also shares the insight that it's not a lie because it's true / youth is wasted on youth / especially when you let it pass you by, urging the listener to embrace the here and now.

With Princely Ghetto, Hanley's voice is so sensual you can feel her seductive gaze upon you, lips parting to proclaim, I just want what's mine. Made In the Shade explores the regret of a relationship that wasn't meant to last: I said I'm sorry / and I can't say it any better than that, while Faded Dress flips the situation as the narrator realizes she's losing her lover: It's not fair when I'm cast as Gatsby . . . And I got a sneaking feeling about you / Such as you got other better things to do / If you want to hurt me it's an unqualified success. In Mean Streak, Hanley practically spits venom through the speakers, humorously combining the paradoxical feelings of missing someone with wanting to knock him off the face of the earth.

Throughout the musicianship and imagery of Cherry Marmalade, it is Hanley's fantastical voice that commands the album, luminous as the light of Venus. Literate and smart, she explores heartbreak and regret alongside joy and fulfillment with wit, insight and spunk.