Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Elisa Flynn – Songs About Birds & Ghosts

Listening to this cd – Flynn’s second solo effort – the first thing that hits you is what a damn good singer she is. The phrase “indie rock song stylist” may sound like an oxymoron, but that’s what Elisa Flynn is. Confident and matter-of-fact on the big rockers, she brings it down to a wounded mezzo-soprano on the quieter songs, with a casual vibrato that trails off effortlessly. Flynn’s thoughtful, frequently dark songwriting gives that voice plenty of opportunity to soar and glimmer throughout a mix of scruffily clanging, upbeat guitar-driven fare and slower, more sparse material, often in 6/8 time and minor keys. Lyrically, she balances wry, smartly literate, frequently sardonic humor with an undercurrent of unease. This is the kind of album you want to put on the ipod and let it grow on you as its layers fold back and reveal themselves. There’s a lot to get to know here.

 

The cd kicks off with Timber. It’s a big, bounding, characteristically wary anthem that builds on from Flynn’s sharp, incisive choral work to a fiery crescendo on the chorus, drummer Anders Griffen getting the next salvo started with an evil cymbal crash. “The house has fallen down around our ears but I still live here…I’m not afraid of the crashing sound,” Flynn resolutely insists. The album’s second cut, Normal is a requiem, its ghost skipping across the room along with the song on the record that plays in the background, Flynn explains. With its skittish rhythm and early REM-ish guitar, Kathleen is another ghostly tale, this one decidedly more playful.

 

I’m Afraid of the Way I Go Off Sometimes is actually a lot more direct, less tongue-in-cheek than the title would indicate. Big Sky follows, wistful and pensive with Jose Delhart’s minimalist banjo over a muted, twilit rhythm section and an absolutely gorgeous, optimistic vocal. The most striking song of the cd’s ten tracks is an Egon Schiele homage, a 6/8 noir cabaret number flavored with spooky, terse piano and bells. The plaintive ballad Lost at Sea gives Flynn a chance to cut loose and wail, and she makes the most of the opportunity. The cd wraps up with the beautiful harmonies of the aptly titled Shine, maybe the only song to namecheck Fourth Avenue in Manhattan (or is it the one in Brooklyn?). Songs About Birds & Ghosts ought to resonate with fans of the A-list of smart indie rock women: Feist back when she was a cool guitar player, Thalia Zedek, Jennifer O’Connor et al. Look for it on our 50 Best CDs of 2009 list at the end of the year. Elisa Flynn’s next NYC show seems to be Sidewalk on April 8 at 9 PM.

February 23, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Mark Sinnis – A Southern Tale

The baritone Ninth House frontman’s second sparsely produced, mostly acoustic solo cd is much like his first, but more fully realized and thematic. As with last year’s Into an Unhidden Future, the production is straight out of late-period, Rick Rubin-era Johnny Cash, minimalist fingerpicked acoustic guitar choicely and often beautifully embellished with piano, strings and Lenny Molotov’s characteristically incisive lapsteel work. Sinnis’ songwriting, and his choice of covers, is more diverse than ever. The latest edition of Ninth House harks back to the band’s haunting, ornate, classically-inflected early zeros sound, so it’s no surprise that Sinnis would mine a more overtly Romantic vein here as well (there’s even a ballad that makes use of the theme from Beethoven’s Pathetique). 

 

 

 

The cd begins and ends on the same somber, death-obsessed note, the opening cut It’s The End, But There’s No Heaven as sepulchral as humanly possible with Molotov and violinist Susan Mitchell trading off ghostly trails of sound. As with Sinnis’ first cd, there are some remakes of old Ninth House songs here as well. Down Beneath, from 2000’s Swim in the Silence, is a dead ringer for the Cure; here, it’s transformed into a swaying country lullaby with rustic violin and terse piano from Matthew Dundas. Mind Melt, from the 2004 Aerosol collection of outtakes and live cuts likewise gets a warmly nocturnal treatment, as does the brand-new ballad Turn Another Page.

 

Freed (temporarily) from the confines of having to belt over a furious electric band, Sinnis has never sung with more casual menace – or casual soulfulness – than he does here. Covering I Still Miss Someone could all too easily go in the direction of parody or pointlessness, but Sinnis keeps it simple and acquits himself well. There’s also a low-key Broadway song (Lerner and Lowe’s Follow Me), a gothic rewrite of a Xmas carol, a couple of straight-up romantic ballads and the offhandedly scary existentialist lament There’s No Rhyme or Reason that winds up the cd. Fans of all the dark haunting guys: Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Ian Curtis and Johnny Cash as well ought to get to know Mark Sinnis. You’ll see this one on our Top 50 CDs of 2009 list at the end of the year. Ninth House’s next show is at Hank’s on Feb 28 at 11.

February 23, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment