Robert Christgau on Fiona Apple
As the synthesizer displaced the electric guitar over the past two decades, there was a parallel development in acoustic music: the folkie ingenue strumming nylon strings gave way to the pop polymath tickling ivorine keys. All in their early thirties, the four major successes in a line traceable to Laura Nyro are Regina Spektor, Nellie McKay, Norah Jones, and Fiona Apple. The first two are obviously minor leaguers compared to Jones and her megaplatinum 2002 Come Away with Me or topic-at-hand Apple, who released the most acclaimed album of 2012 in June. But all are songful New York–identified originals with a fan base, and only McKay, whose 2010 Home Sweet Mobile Home gestured futilely at middlebrow convention after four quirky-to-kooky keepers, is without a current release. Apple and McKay have Broadway roots, the Russian-born Spektor was a classical prodigy, and Jones studied jazz piano in college. None has more than a peripheral relationship to rock and roll as it's normally conceived, and only Jones, whose fondness for country music surfaced with a spooky Hank Williams cover back when, has shown any interest in all the folkish musics on life support gathered under the rubric of Americana.