"Rabbits On the Run" was already indicative of Vanessa Carlton moving away from the lighthearted piano-pop music she had been penning up to that point. The "Blue Pool" EP used "Rabbits On the Run" as a foundation for Carlton to explore other avenues within her newly chosen genre. On "Liberman" Carlton is night on unrecognizable from the girl she once was, the girl that wrote 'A Thousand Miles' and sang about 'White Houses'. Vanessa Carlton is no longer that girl. She's a grown woman now, one with a family, and other ambitions than writing the next big hit single. "Liberman" is the maturation of Carlton as a person and songsmith. As such it is her most rewarding and most introspective collection of songs thus far.
Having set the stage with the preceding “Blue Pool” EP, and “Rabbits On the Run” before that, to see Vanessa embark on this particular course is far from unexpected. “Liberman” fully capitalizes on the dreamy, meditative quality that has become Carlton’s calling card in recent years. "Liberman" still foregoes easy hooks and upbeat melodies, and it largely cements that the light piano-pop songs of “Be Not Nobody”, “Harmonium”, and "Heroes & Thieves" are a thing of the past. "Liberman" unites various aspects of her modest but earnest backcatalog into solemn, introspective musings on love and life. Also, and not unimportant, is that Carlton's piano playing is of lesser importance than her subdued vocals. Over the last couple of years and releases Carlton has embraced her inner Tori Amos.
Who'd ever thunk a light electronic beat (one that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Florence + the Machine record) would ever open a Vanessa Carlton record? More than ever before does Vanessa Carlton embrace her indie rock spirit as the choice of melodies could have been culled from a Britpop or American FM rock band. ‘Willows’ sounds like a Tori Amos song and 'House Of Seven Swords' has Carlton crafting some of her most ambitious vocal melodies. If Carlton is to be believed 'House Of Seven Swords' is about her coming to grips with motherhood and the dynamics of a changed family life. 'Operator' is the record's 'Unsung' with the difference that most of Carlton's songs are rather dark and introspective musings with abstract lyrics, sometimes detailing with some of the recent happenings in her life. ‘Nothing Where Something Used to Be’ sounds almost as an early Coldplay (“Parachutes” and “A Rush Of Blood to the Head”) ballad. ‘Unlock the Lock’ is about rediscovering one’s vast internal world after a long period of not having loved, or having been loved. ‘Matter Of Time’ is a minimal folk guitar ballad that foregoes piano playing almost entirely. ‘River’ on the other hand is stylistically similar to ‘Matter Of Time’. Closing track ‘Ascension’ is the dreamiest and complex of the album, likewise has it the broadest interpretable metaphorical lyrics.
The lyrics have changed from youthful musings about love and relationships to more philosophical ruminations about the human condition. The vocal lines, much more in line with Carlton’s early demo recordings, are often subdued and folkish, seemingly inspired by “Pieces Of You”, the 1995 debut of Jewel Kilcher. The lyrics were kept intentionally vague and abstract allowing Carlton to focus on the arrangements and instrumentation instead of baring her soul. The dear-diary lyrics that used to be the bread-and-butter of Carlton’s early output are something of a rarity here. Carlton’s reinvention and resurrection as in an indie singer has liberated her from the stifling artistic shackles of being a major label artist. If "Liberman" proves anything, it is that Vanessa has found her musical niche, and that she's comfortable where she finds herself now. Her time, her songs, her headspace.
On "Liberman" the song arrangements are more important than Carlton's piano playing. The diminished importance of Vanessa's signature instrument has been signaled as early as “Rabbits On the Run” where it wasn't the main attraction either. 'Operator' already was indicative of Carlton’s propensity towards lesser piano-based material. When her piano does feature prominently, in songs as ‘Blue Pool’ or ‘House Of Seven Swords, it etches closer towards the demo material than to her sumptuous produced “Be Not Nobody” and its follow-up "Harmonium". There's a world of difference between the Vanessa that told the world about her 'Ordinary Day' and the Vanessa and her 'House Of Seven Swords'. Lest we forget, many years have passed since her famous one (and only) hit single. Carlton was allowed to work on her music outside of the spotlight, and judging from "Liberman" she has benefited from that time to find her focus and reinvent herself accordingly. Rather than a 'Nolita Fairytale' this is more of a Nashville renaissance.
The writing for what was to become known as "Liberman" began in the Summer of 2012 with the song ‘Unlock the Lock’. The album was inspired by a colorful oil painting created in 1963 by her late grandfather Alan J. Lee, who was originally named Liberman. “Liberman” was written in Nashville, Tennessee over a year and a half period. Seven tracks were recorded at Real World Studios in Wiltshire, England with Steve Osborne producing. The remainder of the album was recorded at Playground Studios in Nashville with producer Adam Landry. Once again financed by Carlton herself and later licensed to a label partner the production is tonally closer to “Harmonium” while earthier, and warmer in texture. The lack of gloss is ultimately a strength as it allows the music to fully breathe and resonate.
On “Liberman” Vanessa Carlton has successfully reinvented herself as an indie pop artist without losing sight of her singer-songwriter roots. Closer to her demos than ever before “Liberman” combines the best aspects of her demo recordings with those of her more introspective singer-songwriter material. As a stylistic evolution from the changes that “Rabbits On the Run” introduced, it is a resounding victory for Carlton. It is the most engrossing and rewarding of Vanessa’s recent output. Hopefully Vanessa will keep evolving the way she has done over the last couple of years. Vanessa might not have given the world another ‘Ordinary Day’ or ‘White Houses’, but the mesmerizing indie pop of “Liberman” is a resounding success on all fronts. The absence of a new big hit single does not take away from the strength of "Liberman" as a testament to Carlton's awe-inspiring artistic reinvention.