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Morgan Grace: 'Valentine'

Morgan Grace has been releasing solo albums since 2003, but she didn't catch her "break" until 2006, when her song "The Rules of Dating" won a songwriting award via American Idol Underground (now Artist Underground, a Web site geared toward getting exposure for independent artists). Grace submitted the song on a whim, and the track won her $10,000 and recording equipment, with which she put together a home recording studio. Valentine is Grace's first album produced with the spoils of her victory, and the disc finds the singer-songwriter showing flashes of gutsy Liz Phair-flair, coupled with the vocal talent of a jazz singer.

The album's first four tracks find Grace at her best. "Eyes in the Back of My Head" shows off Grace's beautiful, whispery vocals over a simple acoustic guitar, sounding like a bedroom diary reading. "Her Roses" addresses a suicide, and Grace's frank, deadpan delivery lends the song a chilling honesty. "Valentine" is a wonderfully mopey broken-heart song that would fit perfectly in a 1980s Molly Ringwald movie (see Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club). "Keep It Loose" mixes gritty punk chords and wah-wah guitars for a funky sound that lives up to its title.

Valentine marks Grace's first true solo album; she's worked previously with drummer Sam Henry and as a member of the girl group Kleveland. Henry chips in on one drum track, but otherwise, Grace played and recorded every instrument herself. Though the record drags a bit after its strong opening, as a debut the disc shows a great deal of promise.

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Conor McKay