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CD REVIEWS: Indie Round-Up

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MYSHKIN’S RUBY WARBLERS: Corvidae

This is an unusual fusion of cabaret, singer-songwriter, lounge-jazz and gypsy music, yet it’s not quite any of those things. Myshkin’s promo material says “Gypsy torch punk” but the word “punk” must just be an attention-grabber, because although there are faint hints of anger and brashness in some of her lyrics, there’s nothing remotely punk on this CD. Punk is rebellious. Punk is snotty. Punk is intentionally ugly. But Myshkin is world-weary, resigned, with much beauty in her music and in the achy thickness of her voice.

Also, while punk’s roots are in Britain and America, this music hardly seems a product of Anglo-Saxon culture at all in spite of its jazzy elements and English words. I hear echoes of French chanteuses, of Jacques Brel, of Spanish and Gypsy music. OK, maybe a little bit of Elvis Costello too, circa Spike. And though she’s now based in Portland OR, and there’s plenty of mist here, it sounds as if Myshkin’s years in New Orleans were most formative to this music, which has both the prettiness and the grittiness of salt air and ancient streets.

In one format or another, Myshkin has been making recordings for over a decade. Here the singer-songwriter-guitarist and her able bandmates weave multicolored soundscapes for bittersweet (heavy on the bitter) tales of love and wartime. “Drunk” is haunting tune about not putting down roots. “Caledonia” suggests Albeniz set to a electronic beat. “Pipeline” is truly creepy, with its innocent-sounding melody and lyrics of near-surrealistic horror:

I don’t know who put the holes in the pipeline
I don’t know why there were holes in the pipeline
All that I know, gasoline flowed from those holes like silver wine

I caught that gasoline in any old jar I could find
Caught that gasoline in any old bottle
One hundred or more of my neighbors caught gasoline by my side

The fumes made you dizzy the gas burned your skin
The fumes made you sick and the gas burned your skin
But we shouted and laughed like it was silver or silk we were bathing in

True story? Don’t know. Searing imagery? Check.

Though it doesn’t sound very much like any other particular artist, this CD should appeal to fans of Annie Lennox, Leonard Cohen, Erik Rohmer films, Felix Mendelssohn, Marianne Faithfull, PJ Harvey, Elvis Costello, and Yo-Yo Ma, to name a few. Myshkin sums up a pretty reasonable approach to art and life in “Bird of Paradise”:

Very little we must say
But it’s good if we say it anyway
Help you loose your storms it helps me
Find all my scattered pearls

DEENA GOODMAN: Hard To Get To

Deena Goodman makes shimmery, organ-drenched pop-rock. Some of the arrangements on this five-song EP will bring to mind Sheryl Crow, but Goodman’s R&B-flavored voice is more like Taylor Dayne’s or Nicola’s, throaty and rich.

I dig the sound and the grooves on this CD enough to make me wish the songwriting was a little more inspired. The tunes have something of a by-the-books quality, and the cliche-laden lyrics are tough to swallow, especially after Myshkin’s rich storytelling or (see below) Alli Collis’s inspired language. There’s a co-write with Chris Barron of the Spin Doctors, and guest backing vocals from Antigone Rising, but these songs lack the spark of those bands’ best work. Maybe it’s too-many-cooks syndrome.

Still the CD has a number of pleasures, not least, Goodman’s strong but effortless-sounding vocals with (always a plus in my book) their cut-loose Janis Joplin influence. My favorite track is the hooky “Sometimes.” “Too Damaged To Care” has a funky/classic-soul groove and fiery vocals. The soul influence is also evident in the chord changes to the verse of the title track, which echo Bill Withers’s classic “Just The Two Of Us.”

Overall, there’s nothing new here, but it’s a promising debut with great time-tested elements, done well, missing only some sparkage in the material.

ALLI COLLIS: Signal on the Starboard

Signal on the Starboard is Alli Collis’s follow-up to her excellent 2002 CD With Violets. The new disc is a set of songs mostly inspired by a trip to Africa, and it finds her in a gentler, more contemplative mood. There’s plenty of Collis’s fine acoustic guitar work, and fine contributions from supporting players. But, though Collis’s abilities remain a cut above the modern-folk average, the new CD has little of the vocal and melodic passion that made the earlier disc so intensely effective. These songs fade too easily into the background. Which is a shame because the lyrics are wonderful poems. (They’re posted on her website, and worth a read even without the CD.)

Both of Collis’s CDs are available at CD Baby.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. He writes the blog Park Odyssey, for which he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City—over a thousand of them. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. By night he's a working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.