Just as Regina Spektor has found herself to be a famous flower of Manhattan, Heather Gruber is an LA desert rose. Dance Into the Desert affirms as much, detailing the journey that the Tennessee-born singer-songwriter took from her hometown to the SoCal city. Ever-present with a sunny dose of blue-eyed soul, Gruber’s unapologetically anti-folk take on her travels is as much of an album for the road as it is a reflective look back on an inner journey to find herself. Gruber’s sweet-spoken conversationalist’s tone is the perfect vehicle to transport breezy singalong hooks betwixt nostalgic lyricism, with reflections of Sara Bareilles, Colbie Caillat, and the aforementioned Spektor—especially in summery, pop-filtered early parts of their respective careers—pervading throughout.
Sonically, the easygoing, radio-ready nature of Gruber’s arrangements are continuously present. Her innate knack for songwriting and performance is clearly evident from the get-go, making a promising case for her longevity in the California folk-pop scene. Along the lines of something like the 2000-something hit ‘Bubbly’, Gruber glides over a glistening sea of potential saccharine without ever quite dipping her toes in the water. The sweet songbird aims to soar, and successfully does so throughout. With beauteous melodies and optimistic acoustic tones throughout, there is a general aesthetic that is gorgeously adhered to without growing stale.
All that said, the most impressive piece of Gruber’s debut isn’t in her precocious nature as a newfound artist alone, but in her willingness to write her autobiographical lens from a point of view that is just as honest as it is optimistic. While there is always a silver lining, Gruber avoids cheese by telling it like it is. ‘Running On Empty’ discusses the very human, very relatable subject of pure exhaustion in all of its forms, especially following a move as big as the one she had taken. ‘Letting Go’, as much as it is about building oneself up, frankly discusses her feeling of hitting rock bottom. This is a serving of pop hooks with all of the makings of a good contemporary release packed in for good measure. Wherever the road takes Gruber next, chances are she’s looking up, not unlike with the infectious, zippy nature of her Dance Into the Desert.
Words by: Jonathan Frahm (@jfrahm_)