Good musicians know how to make minimalism matter. Alissa Musto is among them. With its ever-changing tones and soothing sound, the singer/songwriter’s latest album What We Saw From the Piano Bar is beautifully understated.

Cambridge-based singer-songwriter Alissa Musto is no stranger to music. She began participating in piano competitions at five years old and once took a first place prize with her delivery of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. She soon went on to receive other accolades, including a “Piano Act of the Year” title at the 2010 Golden Ribby Awards. Today, Musto is a piano teacher, a Harvard student, a performer, and the artist behind What We Saw From the Piano Bar.

As evidenced by its title and Musto’s extensive work with the instrument, the album is piano oriented. While there is potential for it to become tiring, the riffs from the keys will not lull listeners to sleep. They serve as the foundation of each track’s mood, forming the ethereal dreamscape of “American Princess,” complementing the reminiscent tone of “Pictures,” and adding to the bright energy  of “Brovada.”

Musto’s voice, though, plays just as big a role as her piano. She doesn’t croon, she doesn’t belt, and she doesn’t often leave her low to mid-range. But she still begs you to listen. Musto glides in emotional despair in “The Palace,”  “Paper only buys paper happiness,” but decides not to stay sad for long. “We’re just some kids at the bar,” she sings in “Kids.” She exhibits as much ease with her vocals as she does with her piano accompaniment.

Musto’s lyrics are simple yet profound. At times she is a philosopher, pondering “America’s nicotine” and the true meaning of being free in “Freedom.” But other tracks position Musto as a reminiscent young woman, singing about her “pictures on the wall” in “Pictures.”

What We Saw From the Piano Bar will appeal mostly to those looking for something with a low-key, coffee-shop vibe. While it may not be as satisfying to listeners addicted to a big sound, it’s a nice album for when you’re craving a gentler one.

Album Review: Alissa Musto - What We Saw From the Piano Bar
Pros
  • Consistent sound throughout, yet doesn’t get boring
  • Effective minimalism
Cons
  • Does not appeal to a broad audience
  • Not instrumentally diverse
  • Lack of vocal range may fall flat with some listeners
8.2Piano Queen

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