Thursday, August 26, 2010

Lauren O'Connell - The Shakes

Lauren O'Connell is a new-folk artist from New York that you should know about.  Don't mistake her for just another pretty folk singer with a nice voice.  Miss O'Connell is an important poet.  Her lyrics are amazing.  Her use of language is delicious.  Her album The Shakes is her second, and is good.  I said it, and it is true.  She looks and sounds Irish, cause her dad is, but she's a New York gal.  I got on to her originally from her association with Julia Nunes.  If you're a fan of Julia, well, Julia is a fan of Lauren, who's a fan of Julia and credits Julia on the new album for writing harmonies.  Lauren's strengths are her voice and her powerful lyrics.  Her voice is personable, friendly, and makes you feel like you know her or should or would if you could.  It has irony falling off the back side of it and is more than everything you would ask for in a vocalist.  With the maturity of her performance, it's hard to believe that she was just born in 1988.  Miss O'Connell uses her voice to express sexy and shy and bold and hesitant and happy and playful, and sad, and defeated, and more.  Her voice is powerful and emotive. Just to give you an idea before you hear her, the sound of her voice is somewhere in the range between Melanie Safka, Alanis Morissette, Rickey Lee Jones, and Markéta Irglová, with the irony and power of Bob Dylan.  But don't think that she sounds derivative of anyone, her sound is uniquely her own.  The album is fun to listen to, and you'll want to hear it again and again.  You can, (and should), buy this music through her My Space page and listen to more from her on her You Tube channel.  Make sure you check out her public facebook page as well.

From Chambers, Slow
This existential paean is the closest thing to a miss on the album, but I still like it.  The lyrics and the singing are as good as anything you'd wish for, and there's wonderful bass played by Pete Schirmer but the orchestration of this piece is otherwise strange and does little to support the song.   I applaud the desire to grow beyond her voice and guitar roots, but this piece just doesn't work well.  A particular problem is an uneven horn mixed up to loud.  In the beginning it supports the song, but then begins to compete with the voice, and finally at the end plays music unrelated to the main theme.  It's a shame, the horn in and of itself is done well, but doesn't fit in.  The problem is not with the horn player, but with the producer or arranger.  Once you get past that, though, the powerful lyrics, great melody, and strong vocals save it.  It's a good song.
Chicken Wire
The theme, played nicely on banjo, is evocative of a song from the soundtrack of the movie Once.  The close harmonies are wonderful, and there's some great guitar and banjo on it as well.  The lyrics are deliciously dark and despairing, speaking in painterly fashion of a relationship drifting away in passive aggression.
The Pilot
In this song Lauren O'Connell's voice begins with a tenderness that reminds me of the flower child of the sixties, Melanie Safka.  On the surface the song is a narrative about a pilot in World War II, but at its heart is about truth and motivation, and existence.  Just this song would make Miss O'Connell's reputation as a poet.
Things I Panic About
You could dance to this one.  It has a nice rhythmic beat.  That's deceptive.  The cheerful background is paired with lyrics and melody expressing existential angst  and doubt. It sounds like it wouldn't work, but the musical irony perfectly supports the lyrical irony.   The song has it both ways, expressing a tentative hopefulness along with the pain of existing in a world that's sometimes too much with a happy face painted for the world to see.  The poetry is beautiful and  it left me feeling thoughtful and unsettled.

I Don't Mind
What a pleasure to hear such poetry.  A sparse guitar supports the song beautifully, leading into a tender wistful song full of passive desire.  There's a bridge played by harmonica that is sweet, and later in the song a shimmering mournful electric guitar comes in for a beautifully done bridge.  Everything about this song works.
This song starts off sounding like southern rock, and when Miss O'Connell's vocal comes in it pulls it firmly into her musical space with a sassy, happy, song about being an outlaw on the outside looking in and happier for it.  It's a love affair with the outlaw.  Well done. 
Oncoming Traffic
Such a beautiful song about regret and pain and a world outside of your control disguised as a narrative.  I don't know what sort of guitar she's playing, but it has a beautiful tone and is really showcased in this song.
 1988 was the year that Lauren O'Connell was born, and this song sings about the freedom of a clean slate and new love.  It also sings about being caught by people's knowledge and expectations:
I think the world has got my number
Oh my God, there's digits in my eyes
I think that I've been dancing 'round
The brightest rooms in a cellophane disguise
And everybody still remembers
Things that I said last September
Oh, but worst of all, so do I.
A beautiful turn of phrase, a cellophane disguise.  1988 sings wistfully of a lost faith, and finally, the crux, how 1999 was fine too, and then her grandfather died.  I can't imagine a better way than this song to express this complex set of things so well.  The guitar part is worked out and fine, and the vocal is great, but the lyrics are phenomenal.
Sweet Lament
This is a song about how it is to be Lauren, but in a larger sense how it is to be a human being.  It's not happy about itself, but hopeful.  It's the strangest feeling it left in me.  I'm not wanting to talk about it.  Listen to the song for yourself.  It's beautiful and the lyrics are powerful.
Tangled Up Kites
This last song on the album is my favorite.  We don't get to know what's going on, except in metaphors describing being caught up in the events of life and knowing that even if you've lost sight of where you are and what's important, that if you calm down, if you let go, things will be alright.
But sometimes I think I'm losing sight
Of whatever it was that made everything right
But I lack violins to make sorrows or sins
So I guess it must be alright
The power of it is that it doesn't tie it to a particular thing, it's like Paul Celan says, "A poem...can be a message in a bottle".  You've found the message, you are the recipient.  You are supposed to complete the poem by hearing and being moved however you are moved.

Looking back through this article, I was struck by how many times I used the word powerful to describe the singer or her songs.  Usually I don't like using the same adjective over and over, but this time I'm leaving them in.  You should be warned.  She is powerful.  She's going to take over the world, one heart at a time.  Resistance is futile.

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