CDNOW's album review

One of the biggest challenges in crafting worthy guitar pop is how to make it sound fresh, but not too sugary. At a mere 18, Michelle Branch seems to have already solved that conundrum. Rife with hooky melodies that sport a radio-friendly vibe more akin to, say, Juliana Hatfield than to the current spate of kiddie popsters, The Spirit Room reminds listeners that sing-along songs need not involve bubble gum and choreography. Branch relies mostly on strummed electric guitars and layered vocal harmonies to deliver her tightly coiled punches, while the occasional ballad (most notably, the stately finale, "Drop in the Ocean") evidences a songwriter wise beyond her years.

Perhaps best of all, she sings in a voice that's girlish, but not overly cute (think Nina Gordon, with a pinch of Alanis), which gives her sprightly compositions an affecting charm.

Russell Hall CDNOW Contributing Writer

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