CD Review: Ali McManus - Unbreakable

Ali McManus delivers a strong debut album.
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Singer-songwriter Ali McManus has had her share of adversity in her short 21 years and that's besides the near-impossible task of making it in the music business.  McManus has been confined to a wheelchair since she was 7 as a result of a rare bone disorder. She's had 11 surgeries, halo tractions, and steel rods to straighten her spine. In spite of this, she became a musician, and fairly recently too. McManus has played piano since she was 14 and guitar since she was 16.

One wouldn't know she has played for less than 10 years by listening to her debut album Unbreakable. Produced by Jack Douglas, the album shows a maturity not usually present on a debut release and a positive lyrical approach that shows McManus hasn't let her condition stop her from pursuing her dream. Nowhere is this more evident on the title track, which leads off the album. A lushly orchestrated piano ballad, "Unbreakable" showcases a strong vocal from McManus, in spite of her only having a 30 percent lung capacity. When she sings, "I am what I am and I love where I stand. Yeah, I can't stand for long, but I'm going strong, I'm unbreakable" it shows an indomitable spirit.

The country-tinged "Rhythm That Rhymes" follows. A mid-tempo track, it features strong vocals, both from McManus, whose voice resembles Stevie Nicks in places, as well as The Brothers Koren, who assist McManus on the choruses. "Wings" is a bouncy song that showcases Matt Rohde on organ, giving it a bit of a gospel feel. The most "rock" song on the album, it gives McManus' strong band a chance to shine. Both here and throughout, the playing, as well as Douglas' production, is top notch.

"Home" closes out the album. McManus gives a strong vocal on the track, which celebrates family and the importance of having a place to come home to. The song takes an unexpected twist midway through, allowing guitarist Randy Ray Mitchell to show off some killer leads before returning to its familiar refrain for the song's dramatic finish. The song is a strong ending to a strong debut.

McManus hasn't let her condition stop her in life. Besides her musical career, she is also an inspirational speaker. McManus wrote all the music and lyrics on Unbreakable and if this album is any indication, the sky's the limit for her career.