Peter Salett

The title track of this nifty debut platter is a nearly perfect love song: heartfelt enough to sell you on the yearning but catchy enough to transcend the dead zone of schmaltz. Credit Salett's knack as an arranger. He knows that the best way to showcase the song's plangency is to play his own thin tenor against Don Piper's weepy lap steel. "There's always something so tragic/About a hopeless romantic," he croons, and you can't help but agree.

Salett's central thematic concern is disastrous love, and his most affecting composition, "Am I Still in Love With You," is a bluesy torch song in the tradition of Van Morrison, one that features a rousing horn chart and Joe McGinty's fuzzy Hammond organ. Salett's voice is nothing to write home about, even in its most relaxed moments of falsetto. But Heart of Mine soars because of his melodic gifts and instrumental eclecticism. Tracy Bonham contributes a sinewy violin to the countrified "Where I Was," while brother Steve Salett offers a rousing lead guitar on the highly infectious "Big Deal."

One of the coolest things about this disc is that Salett isn't afraid to record short songs. At a time in which simple pop songs are being remixed into eight-minute epics, a breezy tune like "River of Light" -- which clocks in at barely over a minute -- feels like a revelation. The same goes for the three piano interludes that Salett provides. Quiet and whimsical, they serve as the musical equivalent of sherbet.

Salett's style isn't big or showy. He prefers sustained musical invention and careful arrangements to bluster. With Heart of Mine, he's crafted a small masterpiece.

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