When Lights Are Low
(Acoustical Concepts, Inc.)
Joanna Pascale’s debut album, When Lights Are Low, is a delicious return to the days of songs with well-written lyrics and intense romance. This 24-year-old Temple grad captures the heart of classic jazz songs on her cover album while adding her distinctive touch. Pascale’s voice swells with emotion as she perfectly portrays the nuances of each well-chosen song.
In “I Just Found Out about Love and I Like It,” Pascale’s voice dances almost scat-like over the notes, embodying the overwhelming excitement of first love. Along similar lines, “Too Marvelous for Words” showcases the infatuation of new love with a slight Latin flair.
Pascale takes an interesting approach to “In the Still of the Night,” quickening the tempo instead of deferring to the traditional slow versions. She conversely slows things down in the sultry “You Go to My Head.” The potency of Pascale’s voice in “Come Rain or Come Shine” is emphasized by the sole accompaniment of the bass, which is fabulous and deserves recognition of its own. She sings the title song, “When Lights Are Low,” with a wistful sweetness, always perfectly on pitch yet completely uninhibited by the notes.
Not all of Pascale’s songs are concerned with romantic love, though. Pascale emphasizes the message of “Give Me the Simple Life” with an unhurried approach. “Girl Talk” concerns that sometimes silly but entirely necessary frivolous conversation that solidifies women’s friendships but that men find hard to understand.
Pascale’s voice emanates a maturity and sophistication far beyond what one would expect from a woman only a few years out of college. She doesn’t just sing her songs; she fills them with an emotion that personalizes them. If Pascale is this good so early in her career, we can only expect success for her in the years to come. Her jazz band, as well, is extremely talented, and it is worth it to get the album just to experience them.
Pascale, also a very good live performer, sings at local jazz clubs. The dates of her performances and sample tracks from When Lights Are Low are available on her Web site, www.joannapascale.com.
Inside of Emptiness
It defies common logic that removing a part of a whole and having the part stand alone would create something better than the whole it was removed from, but John Frusciante and his latest solo album, Inside Of Emptiness, does just that.
Frusciante is best known as the eccentric and once drug-riddled guitar savant of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but few outside the RHCP faithful know about the string of excellent records he has released since 2001’s To Record Only Water for Ten Days. This may be due to the low profile he chooses to keep with his solo material by not actively touring or promoting them, or it may be that much of his best solo work has come out in the past five months.
Frusciante has recorded five records this year and released them once a month since June’s The Will To Death. The massive output is reminiscent of fellow guitar-icon Buckethead, who released a similar string of records this spring, but this is the simultaneous beginning and end of the comparison.
Frusciante may be revered for his skill as a player, but on Inside Of Emptiness, and all of his other records for that matter, Frusciante is focused on creating an addictive brand of lo-fi, simplistic indie-rock. There are no flailing instrumentals that run longer than it takes to read the phone book or “artistic” forays into noise experimentation. It is just Frusciante and his band knocking out songs that are more, if not equally as enjoyable as anything the Chili Peppers’ have put out since Frusciante’s return to the group in 1999 with Californication.
While Inside Of Emptiness isn’t a stark departure from his previous works, it does carry a refreshingly aggressive undertone, especially as the album progresses. Tracks like “Emptiness” and “666” exuding a vitality that is somewhat suppressed on the traditionally mellow Frusciante solo records.
One positive trait that does carry over from his other records in the past few months is the production value. Inside Of Emptiness features a great one-take sound that creates the sense of a live band in the studio playing together as opposed to them tracking the songs piece by piece and piling it all together in the mixing stage. Regardless of how good Inside Of Emptiness is, Frusciante’s solo work remains criminally underappreciated and painfully underexposed.
Once heralded as the new Dylan, Leonard Cohen’s music has since outgrown such trite stereotypes and blossomed into a realm that is so beautifully his own. Cohen, now 70 years old, has been recording for the past 35 years, and his music is just as penetrating as it was years ago.
For all you who were unlucky enough to grow up without this artist’s albums in your CD player, let me fill you in. Leonard Cohen is a poet, a lyrical god among men with a deep, almost apocalyptic bass in his voice. This lyricist has written some of the most powerful, operatic, heartbreaking songs ever to grace vinyl.
Although Dear Heather is no exception, it is somewhat of a different album. Like all good poets, he opens with a nod to one of the greats, and, in one of the album’s more stirring tracks, offers a rendition of Lord Byron’s “Go No More A-Roving.” “So we’ll go no more a-roving,” Cohen insists, “So late into the night /Though the heart be still as loving/And the moon be still as bright.”
From here, things take a more mellow tone, and the overreaching, yet genuinely stirring love ballads that were once a staple of this artist’s albums seemed to be largely absent. Hey, really, the guy’s 70.
True, in these later years of Cohen’s life, the voice that once shook mountains has since lost some of its resonance because of heavy drug use and a smoking habit that has spanned decades. In its place we see a greater presence of backup singers on a vocally quieter album. At times, Dear Heather even wanders into the realm of an experimental, spoken word piece. But this only adds to what it seems the album is attempting: a soft, yet sly, farewell that seems to say, “I might be leaving but I am not gone.”
With Cohen’s refreshing lyrics set to a soft guitar/saxophone duo working in the background, perhaps, the curtains are closing.
One must ask the question, why don’t more college kids listen to Leonard Cohen? Comments like, “Oh man, did you guys hear the new Cohen album?” usually leave blank stares from even the most knowledgeable individuals. It’s time we put down our Strokes’ albums and trash Nelly’s Sweat and Suit because Leonard Cohen is the real deal.
Bars is a new “super group” from Boston. Considering the pedigrees of their various members, the Bars debut LP Introducing has some high standards to meet.
Guitarist Tim Cossar was a founding member of American Nightmare, the group many credit with reinvigorating fast, no frills hardcore several years ago.
Front man Kevin Baker’s day job is fronting The Hope Conspiracy, one of the more brutal hardcore/punk acts around today.
The other members have previous band experience as well, but this list could go on all day. More importantly, American Nightmare changed their name to Give Up the Ghost and then broke up, and Hope Conspiracy is on hiatus.
This frees up Cossar and Baker to be in Bars full time. Fortunately, this is a good thing.
Lots of bands seem to be flying the “straight forward rock and roll” banner nowadays, and it’s getting pretty tiresome. Bars has found a new and relatively fresh angle to approach it from. The majority of Introducing harkens back to the early 1980s, when bands like Black Flag and Agent Orange were in their prime.
The first track, “Bright Lights For Demise,” sets the tone early, with a mad as heck, super catchy chorus and driving guitar work by guitarists Cossar and Adam Wentworth that will make anyone who doesn’t skateboard wish they did. “See you on the other side,” sings Baker, and after this song, you won’t doubt it.
The standout tracks continue in this vein. “Like It Never Was” starts out with one of the more poppy riffs on the record, then turns into another quality, skateable anthem.
Baker’s voice, which has always been The Hope Conspiracy’s major strength, has never been better.
His vocals on this record are like a punch in the face. They’re intense yet infectious, and could conceivably be compared to Henry Rollins in his prime.
The album runs into problems when they deviate from this formula. On several tracks, the group chooses to let their more straightforward rock and roll influences move to the forefront. Songs like “Toecutter” are a bit more mid-tempo and less energetic.
Changing tempo isn’t necessarily a problem, and Bars manages to pull off the transition pretty decently, but by the end of the album, the songs start to run together a bit, and the energy level has been turned down significantly.
However, on the whole, this album still deserves a recommendation for those looking for something a little different that still flies the punk rock banner.