The word "charisma" is often used to imply a certain kind of attention-grabbing showiness, or even neediness. But it can also suggest subtle ease; a simple gravitational pull that draws people in by making them feel comfortable and at home.
A seven-piece band from Baraboo, Wis., Phox rose to prominence on the strength of its undeniable charisma — particularly that of singer Monica Martin, for whom star power seeps out of every pore — but it's the kind of approachably stylish calm that helped Norah Jones sell tens of millions of records. The band's sweetly sullen folk-pop isn't showy, needy, brash or melismatic, and it's not bound up in a melodramatic backstory. It's ingratiating without crossing into pushiness.
Soft and dreamy, with a pace that rarely rises above a moody midtempo swoon, Phox's self-titled debut has a way of seeping under the skin. From the tone-setting, virtually a cappella opener ("Calico Man") on — and especially in the snazzy back-to-back singles "Slow Motion" and "1936" — Phox dazzles with maximum gentility. The band behind Martin frames her voice in impeccable, confident arrangements throughout the record, comfortable in the well-placed knowledge that listeners will follow wherever she leads.
- First Listen: Strand Of Oaks, 'Heal' The ten songs that comprise Heal had their genesis in personal crisis, with frontman Timothy Showalter's marriage crumbling apart while he was thousands of miles from home on an endless tour.
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