Review Summary: What did Michelle Branch’s music sound like before the major labels found her? It turns out that she was just a girl that enjoyed playing mellow folk-influenced rock and she was pretty good at it.
In 2001 Michelle Branch released her major label debut, The Spirit Room
. It was easily one of the better mainstream pop rock albums to be released that year, and it eventually went on to sell over two-million copies. Most fans never really seemed to realize, though, that The Spirit Room
was actually her second album. Her debut album, Broken Bracelet
, had been released a year earlier on an independent label and had actually been in existence since 1998. The album was self-produced, financed by Michelle Branch’s parents and consisted of songs that she had written as a teen – including four that would eventually be re-worked for The Spirit Room
. As might be expected, Broken Bracelet
is a different album when compared to her major label releases. It is still catchy, but it lacks that glossy studio-pop sheen while featuring a more prominent folk influence.
These differences are made apparent almost immediately when opening track “If Only She Knew” begins. Fans will recognize the song title from The Spirit Room
, but they are definitely coming from different places. The original version found on this album is slowed down considerably, and consists solely of Michelle and her guitar over a simple percussive loop. Without all the overdubs and layering that the song would receive on The Spirit Room
, Michelle’s natural vocal talent shines through and proves that she didn’t need the studio gloss that got added to later albums. The other three songs that eventually found their way to The Spirit Room
are presented in much the same way – just Michelle Branch and her guitar with minimal additional accompaniment. In fact, most of the album follows that same basic blueprint – Michelle’s vocals, her guitar and possibly a subtle keyboard melody and/or simple percussive loop. While it certainly isn’t a blueprint that is capable of providing the instant hooks of her future releases, it is still one that results in some great songs. In fact, the only real dud is the track “Paper Pieces” due to a truly flat vocal performance on Michelle’s part.
Let’s be honest, despite the quality tracks, Broken Bracelet
is only going to appeal to a limited subset of Michelle Branch’s fans. It’s simply a little too rough around the edges for most of the people that fell in love with her later albums. Michelle’s vocals don’t always hit the notes they’re aiming for and the music shares much more in common with stripped-down folk than big-time pop rock, but it’s still a good album. It’s an album that mainly features Michelle Branch and her guitar, and it does so in a much more natural setting than she has ever had since. With the inclusion of four songs that would eventually be re-worked for The Spirit Room
, Broken Bracelet
is also a rare glimpse into Michelle’s musical roots and might even explain why she eventually dumped the pop for country. At the end of the day, Broken Bracelets
isn’t going to blow anybody away but it’s still a good album that showcases Michelle’s talents without any of the big-budget influences that would appear later.