Sunday, September 23, 2007

Just Looking for Some Inspiration... and finding it

In late August, I received an email from an account manager at Special Ops Media in New York, asking if I might be interested in receiving a review copy of Patti Scialfa’s new album Play It as It Lays and post a review of it. It was a form letter, likely sent to anyone with a reasonably well-known Springsteen website. Nonetheless, having liked Patti’s first two albums well enough, not minding receiving promo material, and without promising what type of review I might give, I figured that yes, I might just be interested.

The disc arrived August 31, which, as anyone who has read any of my other recent blog entries might know, was about the worst possible day to arrive. August turned to September, my priorities turned to those of mourning, and the package did not make the trip to New Jersey. I asked a long-time friend if he wouldn’t mind writing the review for me.

Three weeks have passed. I’m returning to some semblance of normalcy. Patti’s album was released, to occasionally glowing reviews. Bruce’s album leaked more than two weeks ago, and my blog piece on that was picked up by Harp, generating about 1500 hits for an otherwise low volume site. Another friend tried to cheer me up by floating over an advance copy of another artist’s upcoming CD (it worked, the CD is a gem). But I didn’t get my ghost-written review for Patti, and so finally I opened the package for myself.

First, the downside – and really, there’s only one. The packaging sucks. At least, on the review copy. The inserts aren’t there. No credits – and on this album, I’d like to be able to hand some out. Just a watermarked CD in a plain red Columbia paper slip case.

The album, however, rocks. I worried a bit as to how I might write the review if I didn’t really like the record, but I needn’t have bothered: I love it. This is Patti’s best album to date. Her singing, which sometimes on her first two albums made her sound like she was trying too hard to be someone else (e.g., Rickie Lee Jones) is assured and confident. The vocal harmonies are exquisite, and the band is excellent.

The opening track, “Looking for Elvis,” throws down the gauntlet: Through remembrances of Septembers past, of looking for inspiration and for "something to rock her soul," of vivid dreams and awakening to carnival dust, the singer declares, "Stand up and deliver if you want my trust." The track features a searing bullet-mic harmonica part by Bruce Springsteen, punctuated at the end by his vocal calls through the mic; anyone who remembers his use of the mic during the “Devils & Dust” tour would recall the sound. (But anyone looking specifically for Bruce on this album may be disappointed; despite his presence on several tracks it’s his only prominent moment.)

Some songs brought back melodic ghosts for me: “Town Called Heartbreak” reminded me of Southside Johnny’s “Why is Love Such a Sacrifice” -- on which Patti sang harmony, way back when. “Play Around,” called up images of at least half a dozen of Bruce’s songs, though the more I let it rattle around the more it seemed – oddly, to me – to conjure up an answer, 20 years on, to his song “All that Heaven Will Allow” (with a bit of “Two Faces” thrown in for good measure). But while I might go looking back to ‘60’s R&B or some such on some songs, mostly I could just lay back and enjoy the groove.

Another temptation is to evaluate whether this album is a confessional. Particularly since the man, in most of the songs, seems like nobody’s prize. I tend to think it's not… but were I to make an exception, it would be for the final two cuts, in particular the album’s title track. In it, the singer addresses her partner, acknowledging the bad as well as the good, and ultimately decides to “play it as it lays.”

As for the album, I can just play it. If it ultimately gets lost due to Bruce’s disc that is coming out in just two weeks, that’ll be a shame, as this disc deserves to be played, often.
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