Tina Dico sings and plays wistful songs on her guitar. She's very big in her native Denmark.
Intrigued? Yeah, neither was I.
But listen to Dico perform her song "Use Me" and see if you feel differently. With a tobaccoey voice and simple but intimate delivery, she draws you in with lyrics that bring a little complexity to otherwise basic emotional pretenses: "Don't be so hard on yourself/Take it out on someone else/Say my name any way you please/Use me."
"Use Me" appears on In the Red, which is Dico's third album but her first U.S. release. If things don't pan out, she has a backup: She also has a gig with the mellow English electronica band Zero 7. (No, she's not the one who sings that song from the Garden State soundtrack. She sang on the tracks "Home" and "The Space Between" on a later album, When It Falls.) But it's clear from her music that Dico, who counts Bob Dylan among her influences, is not necessarily interested in becoming the next big thing in electronica.
Dico is 27, blond and pretty. But unlike many blond pop singers in their 20s, she's actually relatable. She seems uninterested in pretense, either with her image or her music. For God's sake, the poor thing looks like she might actually break down crying in the press kit video, as she talks about how lonely it has been moving to London, and then touring around the world.
Her melancholy has produced an album full of songs that are reflective and intelligent, with memorable choruses. I have no idea what a head shop is, but after hearing the song of the same title, I keep singing "Meet me at the head shop/Forget yourself and leave it all behind..." Dico says she always composes her songs on the guitar, and that's clear in every track. Simple instrumentation serves as the backdrop for her stock-in-trade, which is her vocal and songwriting talent.
Dico doesn't let herself get entirely mired in moodiness. "Give In," which is more uptempo, sounds even carefree. That song brings out the appeal that's evident on "Use Me" and elsewhere, as Dico counsels the listener to give in to the confusion and "take what you find, it will be good enough." Her songs get at the frustration and heartache involved in finding oneself. Everyone, but particularly young women, are going to feel like they found a new friend in Dico.
In the Red pairs Dico with producer Chris Potter, who is known for his work with Richard Ashcroft and his band The Verve. Given Ashcroft's swift fade from U.S. prominence after 1997's Urban Hymns, it's not necessarily a collaboration to highlight.
Indeed, a live performance on WXPN's World Café brings out Dico's appeal better than the album does. Dico has a charming ability to toy with the rhythm of her songs in performance and has a knack for improvising without oversinging, but In the Red standardizes her sound and ends up making it a little less interesting.
The album's production offers no surprises and little variation in tone. There is, however, an excess of slowly twanging, echoing guitar accents -- it's as if producer Potter wants to broadcast the mood. But Dico's songs do quite well enough expressing loneliness and emotional ache on their own.
Though it's easy to stay steeped in the slinky, yearning mood of In the Red, listeners may be left wondering what more she can do. In the meantime, the album is a good companion for downcast dreaminess. "I need a room with a view... Watch the sky turn from hazy gray to black/Watch my neighbors go to work/And look exhausted and burned out when they get back," she writes in "Room with a View." As one of those workaday neighbors, it's nice to put on In the Red and sit on Dico's side of the window.