Rose Melberg's great theme is love, spelled "l-u-v," and she's been singing about sweet romance and sweeter heartbreak with her bands Tiger Trap, Gaze and the Softies for five years now. Portola is a brief garland of wild roses, collecting several years' worth of Melberg miscellany. Some of it was taped with various collaborators: a couple of songs credited to the Three Peeps (Melberg with her Softies bandmate Jen Sbragia and Double Agent label guy Peter Green), including a stumbling but cute version of the Byrds' "Mr. Spaceman" that transforms it from science-fiction country into a love duet; a duet with Dustin Reske from an old compilation 7-inch that's the only flash of rock here; and a version of "Deep Purple" recorded with her parents.
Melberg accompanies herself with quiet strumming and the occasional two-finger lead, but she knows well that her greatest asset is her voice, a breathy purr that could make a reading of the phone book sound like a romantic sigh. She gives herself lyrics like "I'm sorry that you didn't love me/ Cross out that first time we kissed," as well as appropriate covers, like the Beatles' "I Will," which she sings with liquid-eyed sincerity. Informal solo versions of the Everly Brothers' "Devoted To You" and Buck Owens and Rose Maddox's "Loose Talk," Melberg notes, were "recorded in secret as a birthday present for my sweetheart" -- cue a chorus of awwwwwws.
But that's Melberg all over: so absolutely sweet, and so absolutely forthright, that you have to take what she's saying at face value.