Songs For Three Day
For the lover of local music, Portland represents a microcosmic world where hundreds of acts of all musical persuasions vie for the attention of a limited audience and a very small coven of media “critics” who dispense the kernels of their esteemed approval or approbation from a safe cocoon of subjectivity; whereupon, typically, they move on to the new flavorite of the season. This would appear to be an ongoing process of simple evolution and, over a longer period of time, perhaps, ultimately a desirable thing. Survival of the fittest and all that.
For any contemporary musician, regardless the choice of musical genre, there exist a divergent set of pressures: the primary of which are the need to create new material, the need to record and the need to perform. Not every musician is a writer of original material (although all musicians lend their creative efforts to a composition whenever they endeavor to play it╤ especially if the composition in question is new and original).
Some don’t do well in the studio. The sight of that red “RECORD” light, the intonation of “rolling” in the headphones, causes a clammy sweat to instantaneously form upon tensing palms. Still others are petrified to stand in front of an audience and reveal themselves╤ too shy or self-conscious to perform, even if it is only for the dog or cat in a bedroom.
So, for that rarest of all the various genera of the species musician, the true artist, the one who regards each original composition as a creative extension of the soul and psyche, finding true recognition is difficult, if not altogether impossible. Beyond even that, finding compatriot spirits with whom to share and develop this music to some vague fruition is equally uncommon. To arrive at a place where some sort of real magic occurs is the rarest and most uncommon of events. For a dream is somehow alchemically concretized within such a fusion of elements.
Such is the case for Kaitlyn Ni Donovan with her new album Songs For ‘Three Days’. While this may be her first CD, the current musical tender of our day, this is by no means her first recording. From her first recorded effort, Cannibal Spirit, in early 1994, through a series of appearances on New Weave Records projects, Kaitlyn has maintained a visible position within the local community of solo acoustic musicians. Her occasional live appearance has helped as well. But first and foremost, Kaitlyn is a songwriter and a singer and musician in the grandest, most elegant sense of the words.
Her relationship to music is esoterically unique. She does not descend from a lineage of Pop music in the least. To search for such comparisons is an endless empty cul de sac. Instead, Kaitlyn Ni Donovan is a psychic conduit to a rich realm of composition, which contains indistinct references to Celtic, Jazz and Cabaret music, but most predominantly relates to Classical music in both its structure and its intricate harmonic melodicism. Obviously this is not the sort of music you are likely to dial up on your local Rockin’ Z Beat radio programming. But, like a true composer, Kait seems none too concerned about that aspect in her music.
Instead, she has wisely chosen to enlist the services of our town’s most brilliant producer, Tony Lash╤ eliciting from him perhaps his greatest achievement yet. For Kait’s music is far from one-dimensional. It is not merely her complex song structures, nor her eccentrically ephemeral melodic approach, but the distinct challenge that is further imposed by the dreamy, supernatural quality of her lyrics: a rich poetry of sub-conscious imagery and dark brooding emotions, marked by the vocabulary of a true logophile. A score for the film that has been her life. Audio noir at its finest. Real Gothic music as Charlotte or Emily Bronte might create, if they were around today.
Lash has risen to the task with imagination and flair, subtly coloring Kaitlyn’s works with a hue of delicate majesty. Most obviously, he has listened very carefully to Kait’s songs and has responded with sublimely devised instrumentation and arrangements. Each of the thirteen songs is a scene within this sonic film. And Lash has elegantly illustrated each scene with its own separate sense of cinematic grandeur. Elements of light and shadow, texture and contrast weigh heavy in Lash’s production technique.
Utilizing Kait’s talents on guitar, violin, mandolin╤ notwithstanding her incredible vocal instrument; and his own skills on the drums, guitar and keyboards, Lash further enhances the depth of his palette by incorporating the work of guitarist Jonathan Drews and bassist Eric Furlong: who arrived in Portland from the Bay area some time ago as the Canaries, before going their separate ways. Furlong especially has since distinguished himself with a number of various acts, most recently with 44 Long. Throw multi-instrumentalist Eric Matthews into the mix and the instrumentational possibilities are nearly infinite.
“Aegis” is a simple lullaby. Over a whining Celtic flavored fiddle and her gentle acoustic guitar strumming, Kait sings a tale of lovers separating, as might two oarless boats cast upon divergent currents. Her angelic background vocals sound a siren song across the waters of an hypnotic plaint. Lash approaches “Ceiling Tiles” with an arrangement that echoes those of latter-day Talk Talk. An insistent Jazz drum foundation supports an opaque electric guitar arpeggio. A second layer of instrumentation is then amassed with crying Celtic fiddles and a lonely, David Lynch-like Rhodes piano motif, before receding into the vocal and building again toward a dark and sparse middle section.
Mournful cello strains cloud the horizons around “Fear Of A White Bed,” where Kait’s shimmering acoustic guitar flickers atop a wash of soft percussion and Kait’s haunted and haunting vocal. “Awake In The Sand” dances out from a similar musical space, with memorable vocal passages and blustery cello interludes. “Fathoms” is the windswept title track. Kait recounts a starcrossed three-day encounter with a stranger on some faraway foggy moor╤ moodily depicted by acoustic guitar, melancholy violins, and a forlorn organ tone.
Taking an unexpected, but welcome turn, “Yves Montand” kicks off with catchy samba percussion and guitar, before exploding into a groovy, gated-snare jungle beat and exotic fuzz guitar theme; maintaining the insistent beat through the verses and the space-age chorus. Very cool. A dappled mandolin arpeggio plays against plaintive violin strains on “Electuaries.” Kait’s close-miked voice whispers as if it is materializing from the ether in a seance of sound, a visitation of ghosts. Moving.
“Miss Dorian Gray The Starling” is a whimsical number with a jaunty gait and pretty vocal harmonies that twirl and curl like smoke into the air. Rubbery whirly piano stabs usher in “Madeline,” mechanically winding down like a depressed music box; gently picking up momentum with waltzing acoustic guitar and vibrato laden electric. Suddenly, the powerful chorus swoops in on the condor-like wings of black cello tones and nearly translucent drum propulsion. Truly symphonic in conception, and simply gorgeous in the rendering. Mesmerizing.
The timbre of a rickety old stand-up piano resonates rain-like notes across Kait’s faintly familiar acoustic guitar chords on the instrumental “Ma Satie And Me.” Strong Latin percussion grooves drive “Via Via,” as Kait digs in like a Celtic Astrud Gilberto: a solo flugelhorn echoing Miles’ ” A Night In Tunisia” in the breaks. Delightful.
It is rare these days that an album contains the musical and cerebral interest to bear up to a complete listening its entirety, especially on a repeated basis. Radiohead’s “OK Computer” comes to mind as an example of an album that succeeds on those terms. Kaitlyn Ni Donovan’s Songs For ‘Three Days’ is another. For, to miss a song among the thirteen scenes presented here, or to even take a song out of sequence, is to lose entirely the cinematic brilliance of Kait’s artistic vision; and Tony Lash’s magnificent feat in helping her to realize so fully, such a distinct and magical creation. One of the best albums ever made in Portland.
It’s not certain that anyone in the world knows just how many songs Dead Moon have recorded in their near 20 year run beneath that banner. Hundreds, doubtless. Perhaps thousands. Without question, Fred and Toody Cole don’t know. Their music is spoken in more languages than in the UN, and bootlegged in more countries than Nike shoes.
Along with longtime drummer Andrew Loomis, and Toody on bass and occasional vocals, lead guitarist and vocalist Fred Cole has compiled an impressive catalog of rough hewn Rock songs, imbued with rebellious intensity and fiery passion. Combine the reckless vehemence of X and the swamp aspect of Creedence Clearwater with the Fred’s own trenchant, hardscrabble style and Dead Moon’s immemorable sound comes into clear relief.
And, on the surface anyway, this is another among twenty or so Dead Moon albums: black and white cover graphics, strictly mono recording, the three members direct to tape, raging through ten or twelve songs, no muss no fuss. And for the most part the Moonies have held to that battleplan. But dig a little deeper into what’s going on musically for Fred and the band and you hear subtle changes in their style, the slightest softening around the edges, the faintest concession to recording technology. It’s an indistinct change at most, but in twenty years, it’s the first.
You don’t hear it at first. “Down To The Dogs” is prototypical stuff╤ Fred baying woefully over a jagged guitar riff, with Toody and Andrew in close pursuit. Toody’s rowdy take on AC/DC’s “It’s A Long Way To The Top” snarls with a recognition of the truth in the lyrics that even the original lacked. Toody’s raspy delivery is the absolute parallel of Fred’s, just a little smaller.
Those familiar with Fred and Dead Moon have probably noticed his occasional penchant for reference to the seminal ’60s punk band, the LA-based Love. With “To Nowhere Down,” Fred’s songwriting makes a qualitative leap as did Arthur Lee’s with the Love’s 1968 release Forever Changes. Here, Fred models his song loosely after Lee’s “Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale,” Over a pensive E minor to F major 7 chord progression on guitar, Fred even emulates Arthur Lee’s clipped, pinched vocal delivery, adding a heavy sense of pathos to the song. And at the chorus, what’s this we hear? An overdubbed lead guitar laid over the rhythm guitar track! One is hardpressed to recall such an occurrence in the annals of Dead Moon lore. But it won’t be the last time it happens on this outing.
The rueful “On Another Plane” reflects a deeper transformation for the band, one that is irrecoverable at this time. The Coles are grandparents, after all, and into middle-age. When Toody replies to Fred’s first verse with the lines “It’s only time/It’s beginning to show/I’m never the same /But does anyone know/Only have so much/That’s just the way life goes,” she is singing the plain and unadorned truth. Another overdubbed solo lends further significance to the mood. of change found throughout the album.
“Bad Case” snaps back to traditional Dead Moon form, a lively, electric guitar rave-up, the riff of which the Smithereens could have inspired. But Fred’s blood curdling shriek could belong to no one else. Another uncharacteristic stylistic renovation occurs on “”Raise Up The Dead,” where a high degree a tension is created with a minimum of instrumentation.
Above the din of Fred’s truly grungy guitar, Toody belts out “Rescue,” as her galloping bassline pushes Andrew’s surfy beat. Fred contributes dueling guitars in the solo section displaying an inventive sense of adventurousness. “Only Want To Be Your Man” personates early Neil Young in structure and tone.
A decided classic Country feel invests “As Teardrops Break” with a certain burnin’ yearnin’, although Toody’s heartfelt vocal and Fred’s colorful lead guitar interjections lend authenticity to the presentation. Another melodic innovation for the band lies in Fred’s descending guitar line in “Last Train.” Again, a wistful reticence creeps into the lyric, a longing.
Perhaps old dogs can’t be taught new tricks, but Dead Moon confirm that they can improve and diversify the ones they already know. Certain sentiments expressed with some of the lyrics suggest that the band may be wearying, at long last, of life on the road.
This album would indicate a different, if not altogether new direction for the Coles and their music. The spirit of invention and re-invention they display, while adhering to the essential values, both musical and philosophical, by which they have lived as artists for the past thirty years, they uphold the notion that they will continue to grow and thrive for the next thirty.
Lazy Bones Recording
With this follow-up to his 1997 release A Boy and His Dog, versatile singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Charing, joined by producer/drummer Scott Schorr displays strong abilities across the board, working in several separate styles, which have their roots primarily in Folk/Rock and secondarily in Country/Rock. Charing shares stylistic similarities and poetic inclinations with greats such as Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, John Hiatt, John Prine and Louden Wainwright; as well as with lesser knowns such as Nate Ouderkirk, Chris Chandler and Hugh Blumenfeld.
But Charing has a voice of his own. He manifests his songs into three compartments on this album. The first four songs come out with a tough musical stance. “Wake Up Elvis” with it’s jaundiced lyrics, snide vocal presentation and well-placed choral keyboard embellishments, is quite reminiscent of East Coast recluse Ouderkirk. “Utah Salvation” bears a matching sense of intensity and poesy: One more time around our lady of the lake for vindication/Lately there’s been one more mission/There are no mistakes/One step further/just go on alone/ Give me Utah, my salvation/ Best ones go unknown.”
The title track is a cartwheeling waltz that lurches in a Dylanesque manner, careening down an endless highway. “There’s no answer, bad connection/Welcome to this resurrection/I’m just looking for direction/I’m just trying for imperfection/Best it gets is seven seconds west.” “41 Feet Tall” moves at high speed with a purpose and benefits from a forceful chorus. And “The Fall” is more of a slash and burn waltz, with searing electric guitar and frothy acoustic guitars.
With “50 Paces,” “A Family Affair” and “Chair” the twangier Country aspects of Charing’s material come to the fore, adding a sense of humor to the mix as well. Acoustic Folk motifs are explored with “Time Is It’s Own Reward” and “And Now,” but is best expressed with “Is This Is,” Utilizing sparse, but well-placed effects on the vocals and acoustic guitar, a sense of foreboding is chillingly captured.
Alan Charing has a singular way with words. Simple accompaniment and uncomplicated arrangements. Such an approach serves to place deserved focus on the well-constructed lyrics, and Charing’s emotional directness, but occasionally fails to fully flesh out the richer musical aspects of the material. Despite this shortcoming, Charing demonstrates clear abilities as a songwriter and performer and his further projects will be greatly anticipated.
Wild Hair Records
These bands have more in common than exotic and vaguely French sounding names. For one thing, both feature prominent female writers and players. For another, their material is Poppy but out of the mainstream. However, Fez Fatale have a song called “Lava,” but Lava Demure do not have one called “Fez.” And there are other differences, as well.
Fez Fatale is essentially a three piece band with two separate sets of vocalists. Brian Robbins and Ann Murray share the position of lead singer. Meanwhile guitarist Tim Henwood and Pam Quinlan share the songwriting and background vocal credits. Drummer Andy Pinzelik and bassist Grego Sanguinetti complete the line-up.
As might be expected, their sound is vocal-heavy, with Robbins and Murray exchanging lines or verses. Henwood and Quinlan typically lend supplemental and occasionally, harmony vocal support. Theirs tend to be “story” songs, centered on lyrics, with melody and chords in a secondary role. Joni Mitchell’s “My Analyst Told Me” is an example of the style.
Quinlan’s lyrics are witty and intelligent, but do limit Henwood’s ability to supply strong melodies or memorable choruses. Robbins has a very pleasant tenor voice and Murray is possessed of a clear and resonant contralto. They blend well together in those instants when they are called upon to do so. But, at the same time, they seem to maintain a delusively slight distance from the material, not unlike lead singers in a good cover band.
“Lava Love” chugs along on Henwood’s tight little soul-flavored Soul guitar riff and precise work from the very capable rhythm section, as Robbins and Murray intricately disperse the vocal responsibilities on a funny Hawaiian-themed lyric. Gliding on Pinzelik’s snappy snare thwaps and Henwood’s indistinct Reggae-tinged guitar phrasings, “Girl Physicist” fails to generate much interest in the complicated lyric.
But “Someone Fire Me From My Day Job” musters some heat, despite equally elliptical lyrics. Henwood’s fervent, Neil Youngish electric guitar and jangly acoustic guitar join Pinzelik’s driving drums to create the rhythmic motivation. An impressive chorus, with splendid three-part vocal harmonies make of this the winner of the bunch. “Carnivorous Sharks” has a bit of that Mitchell sort of scat approach. Well-done, but done before.
Fez Fatale are a smart group of good players and entertaining vocalists. Quinlan would do well to pare down her lyric writing style, perhaps by writing Haiku╤ or shorter lines, at least; thus allowing Henwood to develop his melodic sensibilities beyond the mundane. the band show a lot of talent on a lot of fronts. They just don’t seem to know what to do with it just yet.
Lava Demure have a distinctly different approach, centered upon the percussively mysterious nature of Tina Roe’s marimba parts. Vocalist Feroshia Knight can beller with the best of them, calling to mind the irritating lead-singer for Four Non-Blondes. And guitarist Wad Martin, bassist Jason Kemp and drummer Gray Nieland are a formidable lot. But it is Roe’s marimba that makes all the difference.
The aptly named “Jungle” rumbles with a Peter Gabrielesque ominousness to the marimba, a Steve Reichish repetition percolating a beneath punchy bass and jagged guitar scenario. Subtlety is not within Knight’s vocabulary, she is over the top, even when she is attempting to be intimate. Perhaps this is to be expected from someone named Feroshia. “Dangerous” bubbles with a flamenco feel, where Knight’s over-emoting seems to better fit the mood.
“Zillion” creates a bit of musical drama, with tremulous marimba cycles╤ although Knight sometimes seems unaware of the microphone’s capacity to pickup and transmit sound; instead attempting to physically reconfigure the oxide molecules of the recording tape on her own. Taking a different tack, “Hungry” manages to reign things in, until the tumultuous chorus anyway╤ where at least the sturm is befitting of the drang. The pretty “Insane” gives some glimmer that Knight may one day learn to tame the bombast, for she is possessed of a powerful and provocative voice, even with out all the histrionics and pyrotechnics.
Lava Demure have some good ideas. But they haven’t as yet learned to put it all together. Roe’s marimba is problematic, given the inherent sonic limitations of the instrument. If she were somehow able to support or alternate with keyboard parts from time to time, the tonal variety would be invaluable. And if Knight would understand that people get tired of being yelled at pretty damn quick, especially when the music is beckoning them with inviting sounds, then this band would seem to have the essential elements of success.
Lover Legend Liar
One of the more colorful and eccentrically intriguing characters to inhabit the local music community over the past 20 years, Rozz found fame as the vocal/focal point of Theatre of Sheep who, along with Billy Rancher and The Unreal Gods, The Confidentials and Napalm Beach, were among the very best bands to emerge from Portland’s magically fertile New Wave scene of the early ’80s.
Soon after dismantling the local chapter of ToS in the mid-’80s, Rozz migrated to San Francisco to seek his fame and fortune; initiating a long-term love’hate relationship with Portland; disdainfully viewing his former home as backward and provincial. Still, over the years, he has occasionally returned to visit, most redently to promote the prospect of a tell-all book regarding his bizarrely dysfunctional relationship with Courtney Love: one that extends back to his tenure as Rock God in the early ’80s.
And on some of these periodic visits to town, Rozz would regroup with fellow Sheeper Jimi Haskett to gig about town from time to time.
And though he has now come back to live in Portland once again, his opinion of the city seems no rosier. What has changed drastically is Wright’s musical m.o. Formerly, Rozz chose a more electric, theatrical guitar and keyboard-dominated sound to propound. Where as now, there is nary a keyboard to be found.
But there have been larger factors to effect the direction of Rozz’ music, the foremost of which was the disintegration of his long-term love relationship and the loss of his three-year old son as part of that process. While several of the songs among represented here recapitulate some of his recorded output over the past ten-years, many seem to prophecize the end of his relationship, maturely and eloquently dealing with various aspects of interpersonal relationships, while subconsciously detecting the cracks forming in his own.
Despite rough, lo-fi production standards, Rozz proves himself to be availed of superior Rock songwriting instincts, while demontstrating a knack for acid-tongued lyrics, that can lay waste to a whole city in the matter of a few verses. And while Rozz Rezabeck Wright’s “legend” may loom most significantly in his own mind, there is no doubt that he is a remarkably talented individual with wry, jaded and jaundiced perceptions aplenty. This album serves as a testament to the cathartic qualities to be derrived from the creation and performance of original music.
Among the 24 or 26 songs (depending on how they are counted), there are only a couple that fail to hit their mark. Rozz and accomplice Haskett–who plays an amazing variety of instruments throughout the compilation- have evolved between them an idiosyncratic Folk/Country/Rock sound that has the “front porch” ambience of some West Coast Bluegrass hybrid, but with a large dose of Dylanesque poetic cynicism lopped on the top.
The album kicks off with “Pirates and Poseurs,” a jaunty chanty, that humorously enumerates many of the problem people Rozz often encounters in his Portland endeavors. “Pirates and posers/hooligans and holy rollers/rehab forgozers/in the city of roses/Bone crushing disco/drippin with crisco/no thank you man I’ll stay in San Francisco new crushing disco/drippin’ with C.
“The Friendly Skies” is a Stonesy slice of Country pie, with refereces to Bowie’s lyrical “Space Oddity.” A Dinosaur Jr.-like melody haunts “Empty Room,” an acoustic guitar driven rocker. “Coffee Table” is a chiming acoustic catalog of objects found on the coffee table of a well-known “counter-culture queen.” Of course, some assumptions immediately spring to mind as to that person’s identity Nice sax work adds to the sonic mix. “Rock Stars Under 30” is a caustic diatribe against a new generation of musicians. “Deep into the season of a treason and a slumber/Genetic celebrities are stealing all of my thunder.”
Two solo acoustic numbers stand out for their confessional candor and emotional honesty. “Shortermemory” is a piquant song, short and to the point. “Toast” actually has violin and viola accompaniment in the background, but Rozz again ingenuously confronts his real problems with impressive probity.briefwith impressive of thought Two other songs. “You’ll Never Change” and “Skinny Bones,” are distinct stylistic departures, loungey excursions which Rozz handles with surprising aplomb.
The former is a moody ballad, reminiscent of Johnny Rivers’ ’60s classic “Poor Side Of Town.” The latter, inspired by the death of Freddy Mercury, is a lonely breeze of a song, just Rozz on acoustic and vocal, spilling the contents of his heart.
Recorded ten years ago, “Why Am I Still Smiling?” is a smoldering hunk of rock, more fiery, perhaps, than most of Rozz’ more current work. Dating back to 1990, the suite of three short improvised songs, “Julie,” “Blonde By Choice” and “Joe Velvet” are incredibly well-wrought for what they are and are terrific examples of the magnitude of Rozz’ abilities as a creative artist and songwriter.
“Pockmarks And Paste” is a acerbically scathing tirade, ostensibly written from the point of view of Kurt Cobain, just before or slightly after the big event. “Suicidal/Homicidal/Sometimes I think I’m my own worst rival/ You don’t want to work for this company.” A raging rocker that captures the Cobainian energy and bile, while providing a heavy dose of Rozz’ own characteristic sense of spleen.
There is probably very little that can be said of Rozz Rezabeck Wright that he has not said himself. But, with all the hyperbole a-flyin’ it’s easy to lose track of one essential truth: the guy is indisputably brilliant. He has an inherent knack for songwriting, a savvy intellect, a biting sense of humor and an obvious connection to his deeper emotions. Clearly, this album is a hodge-podge that blurs the sentiment and feel of the more recent material. And while the album probably would have been much more focussed at one-half or one-third it’s length, there is no denying that Rozz is a true genius.