Lucid Culture


CD Review: Mamie Minch – Razorburn Blues

Not what you might expect. As devilishly funny, irrepressible and irreverent as the former Roulette Sisters frontwoman is live, a lot of this album is rivetingly dark. Mamie Minch’s solo debut is a sparse, terse collection of both original and classic acoustic blues songs, several of them imbued with Minch’s signature wit, but it also shows off an altogether different side of her writing. As any good blueswoman knows, the blues can pack a mighty emotional wallop, and Minch sings with an unflinching honesty, even anguish in places. Minch’s soulful, passionate alto voice resounds over old-school instrumentation including her own National steel guitar, Andy Cotton on upright bass, another former Roulette Sister, Karen Waltuch (who was the original string player in Golem) on viola, Patrick Farrell (Ansanbl Mastika) on accordion and Bob Hoffnar (Amy Allison, Buddy Woodward’s Nitro Express), who graces the album’s final cut, on pedal steel.

The cd kicks off on an auspicious note with a Minch original, Razorburn Blues, an exasperated catalog of indiginities every woman can relate to. The next track, another original entitled Fortified Wine Widow is a sad, downtempo country blues spiced with Waltuch’s viola. The songs’ narrator regrettably admits to playing second fiddle to “that lady he loves best,” be it Mad Dog or whatever her good-for-nothing boyfriend is consuming. As Minch tells it, she leaves him to sleep it off because she can’t stand sleeping beside someone who’s so enslaved to drink that he can resist her charms.

On the sad, slow waltz Astroland Tower, vividly set in a Coney Island of the mind, ninety years ago, Minch evokes the desperation of someone who has nothing left to lose. “Strap me in, I’m feeling fearless,” she intones, “the great height we will, climb stark against the sky,” as if she doesn’t care if the chains of the stories-high amusement park ride will hold her in place or send her spiraling earthward. It’s her Wall of Death, resonator guitar mingling with Waltuch’s emotion-drenched viola work. Another original, Border Radio (originally recorded with the Roulette Sisters on an Edison cylinder, for a still-to-be-released compilation cd) is an authentically old-school country tribute to the powerful US-owned stations situated on the Mexican border who popularized legends like the Carter Family back in the 20s and 30s. And the imaginatively, shape-shifting Poor Girl Blues has the same rapid, split-second time changes that characterized the best of Memphis Minnie’s work.

Minch also ably tackles several blues classics, including Pallet on Your Floor, which is usually played as a come-on. Minch’s interpretation gives her narrator real depth, bemoaning the conditions that she has to deal with sleeping on her own: perhaps she’s looking simply to trade a pallet instead of hooking up with the guy who owns it. She also runs through a particularly chilling, death-obsessed version of the traditional blues Crow Jane, a rousing, authoritative take of Don’t Speak to Me and an inspiringly defiant take of Black Dog Blues, a defiant girl-power tale told from the point of view of a prostitute who refuses to let her pimp push her around.

Hard to think of a better debut album we’ve heard this year, impressive evidence of how today’s best blues players, Minch among them, continue to make the blues mutate and evolve, pushing the envelope while remaining true to the honesty and raw emotion of the original source. And the album comes in a charmingly retro package: the cd booklet’s first print run is a handmade, numbered series run off on a 1930s letterpress. Mamie Minch plays the cd release show for Razorburn Blues at Union Hall in Park Slope at 9 PM on May 27.

May 23, 2008 - Posted by | Music, Reviews

1 Comment »

  1. Some Memphis Minnie Blues…

    Comment by Dan Chlipala | May 24, 2008 | Reply

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