Zee Avi lures us in with swanky, old-timey, folk with South Asian flavor in her self-titled debut.
If Zee Avi has a “Bitter Heart,” as the first single off her debut album’s lyrics suggest, then she masquerades it well behind simple folksy-bluesy songs that are sweet and sunny while never cloying. The Borneo-born 23-year-old singer/songwriter, who deservedly caught her record label’s ear by posting videos on YouTube, sounds like Jolie Holland’s younger sis, but with less of an old-timey warble and more of a smoky Billie Holiday smoothness. Finger snaps and a jazzy, thrumming bass line on “Poppy” take the lyrical sting out of a song about a heroin-addicted ex; the foot-tapping ukulele strums and subdued horns of “Just You and Me” will have you putting the “ba-da-pa-bum” chorus on repeat; and on “Kantoi,” Avi sings in both English and Malaysian, complementing the uke’s island vibe. Besides a couple slow-jam snoozers, it’s hard to find flaws in Avi’s addicting ditties, which temper her melancholy lyrics with just the right amount of sugar.