Personnel: Leighton Meester (vocals); Jeff Trott (guitar, mandolin, keyboards); Joel Shearer (guitar); Patrick Warren (accordion, piano, keyboards); David Palmer (organ, keyboards); Ryan Peterson (keyboards, percussion, drum programming); Matt Chamberlain (drums, percussion).
Audio Mixer: John Cranfield.
Recording information: Sage And Sound Studios, Hollywood, CA.
Abandoning the dance-pop she initially pursued in 2009 as well as the country she created in the wake of Country Strong, Leighton Meester settles into a lush adult alternative groove on her long-delayed debut Heartstrings. Working with Jeff Trott -- formerly of '80s college rock icons Wire Train but better known with as a producer/co-writer with Colbie Caillat, Sheryl Crow, and Jason Mraz -- Meester strikes a nice balance of classic '70s confessionals, turn of the millennium pop, and seductively swaying, modern adult alternative, a fusion that places equal emphasis on melody and sweetly enveloping songs. Meester's airy vocals blend into tapestry but they never disappear; she may have a light touch but she remains a compelling focal point in this elegantly orchestrated hybrid of Laurel Canyon folk and L.A. Baroque pop. Her songs may be soft but they're as sturdily constructed as Trott's production, which means Heartstrings is a genuine surprise: an adult alternative album that straddles the past and present; one that gains strength from its classical elements but has a modern sensibility, and an album that's a soothing pleasure. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine