Thursday, February 21, 2013

Johnette Napolitano - Scarred (2007)

While the name "Johnette Napolitano" may not mean anything to you, the name "Concrete Blonde" certainly will.  "Joey" was a top 20 hit, and a number of other songs ("Caroline," "God is a Bullet", "Still in Hollywood," "Ghost of a Texas Lady Man," etc.) made them a huge act in the late 80s/early 90s prior to their breakup in 1993.  The have gotten back together a few times (even releasing two albums in the 2000s), but have generally been under the radar since their original breakup.

Napolitano, in the meantime, has been busy.  She's a sculptor, a poet, and (still) a musician (both her own releases and soundtracks).  She has released three other solo albums besides Scarred, but those were improvised and primarily electronic.  Thus far, this is her only true studio release.

Disclaimer:  I enjoyed the Concrete Blonde sound but cannot really be considered a fan; I don't own any of their albums.

That being said, let's get right to it:  it's great.  It's good enough that I wish I had heard it when it came out, as opposed to just discovering it now (six years later).  Napolitano's voice sounds better and clearer than ever, and it's evident that the songs are close to her heart:  at many points it's as if she's vocalizing a raw wound (in the best possible way).

After a few listens, I called this "uneven," but since then it has grown considerably on me.  I'd highly suggest a headphones listen on this one:  there is a lot of TLC in the production that you might otherwise miss.  As for the songs:  "Scarred" is a haunting picture of regret, anger, and sadness.  (Think Shelby Lynne's cover of "Mother" with more angst.) "Save Me" shows Napolitano at the top of her lungs best.  "Everything for Everyone" is a great confessional rocker.  "Amazing" sets the table for the album, with a well thought out  musical plan combined with a display of her amazing vocal range.

But the crown jewels here (for me) are "Just Like Time" and "I'm Up Here."  The former is pretty reserved in the context of the album, but it's an 80s/90s top 20 song that just happened to be created in 2007.  It's also the most Conrete Blonde-ish siong of the lot, which may be why I like it so much.  Great lyrics, smartly packaged musically.

"I'm Up Here," (which I have included here) on the other hand, is damn raw.  It's also all over the place, with plenty of twists musically and lyrically -- the refrain doesn't even hit until over two minutes in.  It's probably my favorite song:  deceptively simple, but unbelievably powerful. 

In the end, the music is very good, but the vocal performance is transcendent.  Amanda Palmer is the only other vocalist that comes to mind that regularly delivers this kind of emotion, but Napolitano does so with an out of this world register.  It's a great comeback and hopefully not the last one.

CD Placement Rating:  Car CD Changer.

- Snilch

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