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.

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

CD Review: Amanda Thorpe – Union Square

This could be the ultimate autumnal New York album, perfect for grey days with a chill in the air, winter’s hand tugging impatiently on the curtains. The songs on Union Square are gorgeously wistful and intensely poignant. What Linda Thompson was to the 70s and early 80s, Amanda Thorpe is to this era, another British expat steeped in traditional English folk, possessed of one of the most beautifully haunting voices you will ever hear. Thorpe is somewhat more diverse, however: she will give you eerie austerity and resigned melancholy, but she also has a seductive, torchy side with great nuance. This is the first solo release for Thorpe – who also fronts the supremely catchy Bedsit Poets – since her first album, Mass, in 2002, and it was well worth the wait.

By contrast to Mass, a lushly produced, smokily atmospheric effort, this one is remarkably terse and direct. Every note on this album counts. Thorpe is accompanied here by a choice crew of New York luminaries – co-producer Brad Albetta (also of Mary Lee’s Corvette) on bass, Bill Frisell sideman Tony Scherr on guitar and upright bass, Bob Perry on lapsteel and ex-Psychedelic Fur Joe McGinty on keys. The album kicks off with the sarcastic Life Is Great, a lament directed at a pillhead: “Life is great with a hole inside.” Perry adds layers of bluesy lapsteel over Thorpe’s understatedly frustrated vocals. Track two, Won’t You Let Me (a co-write with Phillip Shelley) is pure seduction set to a sweetly soaring Albetta bassline. The next track, River Song is arguably Thorpe’s finest hour as a songwriter, a vivid account of rejection and despair, here recast with something of a Madder Rose-style 90s trip-hop feel. After that, Next to Me makes a good segue, Thorpe holding up a red flag – albeit from a distance – to a would-be suitor.

Burn This House Down, spiced with juicy blues piano from McGinty, has Thorpe bringing the intensity up to redline as she pulls out all the stops and belts:

Though I still love you
The romance is dead
As you burn this house down

Then Scherr launches into a truly nasty slide guitar solo.

Other standout tracks on this album include the marvelously catchy You and Me in a Doorway (also a co-write with Shelley) with its lush bed of guitars and lapsteel; the hypnotic, pastoral Over the Sea (a Wirebirds soundalike); the beautifully melancholy title track, and the absolutely brilliant Show Me a Place. Thorpe’s voice longs for something transcending the ordinariness that she’s held on to with such a steely grip, until now. “As long as there were cigarettes and another glass of wine,” everything was ok. But now she sees “my own black silhouette reflect against the sky:” high time for a change. Perry’s layers of lapsteel punch at the melody like a string quartet. Few other singers in Thorpe’s league ever get to sing material this good; still fewer songwriters in Thorpe’s league can deliver it with as much passion, intensity and subtlety as she does. This ought to appeal to a very wide listenership encompassing the purist Richard & Linda Thompson contingent as well as fans of the current group of A-list chanteuses (Feist, Erica Smith, Rachelle Garniez et al.) and maybe even some of the less adventurous for whom Norah Jones is simply the greatest thing out there.

February 25, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments