Linda Imperial’s latest EP “Heart Rock”

Some might find the title for Linda Imperial’s latest EP a little too earnest for its own good. There’s something trite and played out, if not a little unseemly, about harvesting one’s own past for songwriting material, but it’s the only way they know how to write and perform for many. We’re better off for it. The cathartic wonderment of “jeez I really made it through, didn’t I?” reminds us, in our darkest and loneliness moments, we too can endure and prevail. It is music’s communal spirit weaving its magic and Imperial conjures whirlwinds of emotion and energy over the course of Heart Rock’s five songs. A veteran team of five-star musicians accompanies Imperial throughout the release and compliments her skillset without a misstep.

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Hardy Hemphill is one of the guest musicians who play an important role on this release. Hemphill’s anguished harmonica squalls turn up the emotional intensity of Imperial’s first cut “I Found Me:”, but it’s her vocal that dominates the bulk of your attention. She takes many of her cues from the blues tradition, but there’s rough-hewn sultriness present in her voice too. The exuberant triumph underlying the lyric is an emotional quality she captures with little effort; it peaks at all the right moments and retreats when the moment calls for backing off. Imperial sets a high bar with the first song, but you finish hearing it confident she will match or exceed it.

“You’re a Fake” shows she’s not someone to be trifled with. Her natural intelligence, bent of character, and a lifetime’s experience inform her ability to write this scathing character assessment. The most interesting about the tune, for many, will be setting such a biting lyric against a comparatively placid musical accompaniment. “You’re a Fake” presents the EP’s clearest opportunity to push things in an edgier direction that Imperial doesn’t fully exploit, but it’s nonetheless a potent track.

The backing vocals for the fourth cut “Just Right” are one of a handful of factors setting this track apart. It has the strongest commercial sound of any Heart Rock track, particularly its chorus, while holding together the first class playing that is a hallmark of the release. It raises the vulnerability of the overall songwriting several notches as Imperial writes about the defining romantic relationship of her life with another prodigiously talented artist, Quicksilver Messenger Service alum and current Jefferson Starship member David Freiberg.

Imperial has released the track as a single and a music video. Opting for the popular lyric video style, the promo clip will help retain any new fans she garners. Her indie status never precludes her from presenting a thoroughly professional product with both the video and song itself. The stylization of the former never comes at the expense of either her songwriting or message. Linda Imperial’s EP could have benefitted from one of its songs taking a slow pace, the tempos are too similar despite some attempts to shake up the monotony, but it’s not a big deal in the end. The performances and songwriting energy more than compensate. 

Michael Rand

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