Lucid Culture


CD Review: Patty Ocfemia – Heaven’s Best Guest

An astonishingly good, gripping album that instantly vaults to the top of our best debut albums of 2008 list. Patty Ocfemia is one of the great storytellers in music, setting vivid imagery and a vast array of characters to catchy, acoustic-based music. She sings in character, with a strangely beautiful, instantly recognizable voice. It’s sweet and somewhat breathy, but with a quirky edge that lends itself particularly well to the people she portrays. Like many of the best songwriters out there, she has a soft spot for the underdog and the underclass, but she writes with an uncommon subtlety. Ocfemia is a charter member of the “show, not tell” club: she lets her narratives speak for themselves. Producer Robert Burke Warren sets her tasteful guitar fingerpicking to imaginative arrangements occasionally spiced with mandolin, organ, upright bass and even vintage 80s synthesizer in one particularly amusing moment.

The album opens with the bouncy Margarita Sisters, a smartly crafted, funny but empathetic portrait of a small crew of women who always overdo it, told from the point of view of an exasperated bartender in the wee hours. The next cut, Heavyset Man is something akin to a Eudora Welty short story set to music, a rueful conversational tale between friends set to an upbeat, bluesy tune. The absolutely gorgeous, melancholy Barcelona is one of the album’s best cuts, Burke Warren’s soulful electric guitar solo after the bridge mingling with Ocfemia’s dexterous fingerpicking. It’s a song about being stood up on a blind date: the narrator is so convincing (and convinced she has to make excuses for the creep who’s doing it to her), that you just want to slap her. Women beating themselves up over bad choices is something of a recurrent theme in Ocfemia’s writing, as listeners will discover a few tracks later.

Sean Lugano is an equally haunting song, beginning with an ominous guitar intro evocative of the Stones’ Sister Morphine, recounting the sad days of the aftermath of 9/11 in New York, when there was a “missing” poster – in this case, for a NYC firefighter – in apartment house elevators all over town. The album ends on a tremendously powerful note with Ocfemia’s best song, the towering, majestic Misspent Youth. Burke Warren’s organ enters ominously behind the guitar even before the first verse starts in this big, bitter anthem about cutting old losses and starting all over again, a prospect the narrator has decided to embrace, but not without regrets. Ocfemia’s vocals match her lyrics, full of subtlety and nuance, but finally, after a whole album, she pulls out all the stops on the song’s final chorus, flames of rage bursting out from behind the smoke:

Not like old lovers
No permanent scars

No fixed agenda
No calendars
No heavy hand or privileged truth
No guilt or shame for my misspent youth

The last chorus drops down to just voice and Ocfemia’s guitar, followed by a pause, then the mandolin and organ come in and quickly fade. “I’m not giving up, I’m letting go,” Ocfemia asserts with quiet determination. Fans of pantheonic rock lyricists from Elvis Costello to Lucinda Williams to LJ Murphy will love this album. CD’s are available online; we’ll let you know when there’s a cd release show for this one. Like the album, it promises to be pretty intense.

February 6, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment