REVIEW: Claudia Russell

ClaudiaRussell_Changing

Claudia Russell 

All Our Luck Is Changing

Produced by Peter Case

Radio Rhythm Records

By PAUL ZOLLO

This is beautiful.  At the exact time our society gets obsessed with musical artists as provocateurs or contest-winners, we also get music from people like Claudia Russell, a  gifted songwriter with a gorgeous singing voice. And it reminds us why songs matter. When they’re good, they are really good. They speak to our hearts and our minds at the same time, uplifting our spirits while engaging our thoughts, and giving us something solid to hold onto even in the whirlwind of modern times. She’s that kind of songwriter, whose work does all that and more.  This is an inspired chain of songs, and is elegantly produced by the great singer-songwriter (and Bluerailroad columnist) Peter Case, a guy who obviously knows a lot about songs and how best to render them. In Claudia, he’s  found a brilliant and poignant connection, and the result is an album of much grace and joy.

Sweetness abounds. On top of the great songwriting and excellent musicianship throughout, there’s the overriding effect of sweetness, that deriving from the singular spirit that lives in her voice.  Whether singing a sad song or a happy one,  that voice shines through with great purity. There’s no affectations or contrivances, it’s a voice of great and poignant purity. It brings to mind the gentle embrace of the McGarrigles voices in harmony or alone, that gentle, reedy quality , that sound of a voice that isn’t singing beyond  you to an arena of thousands, but directly to you, like a friend talking to you and you only.

Add to that songs of great depth and detail, and with a sweet nostalgic longing for a happy and simpler world (“Pirate Girls”), and a spirit of real affirmation. Whereas many write vague and empty songs, songs with hardly any nouns even, songs with lyrics that suggest but don’t don’t show anything, unrelated to real life, she writes richly detailed and dimensional songs that are like little movies, each with a vivid sense of place so that the listener doesn’t take in the song from a distance, but from its heart. This is the essence of great songwriting.

The title itself and title song, “All Our Luck Is Changing” is one of the greatest songs ever about the persistent optimism of the human spirit. It’s about the reason people go to Vegas so often, as depicted in this song, trying to extricate themselves from normal life with hope for miracles.   It’s part of the human equation, that in the chaotic midst of being human in modern times, we cling to hope for change always – and often a big, profound change, the perpetual openness to the possibility of a big win that leads people in America to say everyday, “but if I were to win the lottery…”

It’s also the reason people often become songwriters.  As Paul Simon wrote in “Train In The Distance,” “the thought that life can be better is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains.”

She wrote the title song and several others with her partner in life and music, Bruce Kaplan, who is also a gifted mandolinist and guitarist. Together they paint a delightfully detailed picture, as poignant in its reflection of of early 1960s America as the old postcards she collects: She’s a little girl driving to lucky town in a blue Falcon with a dad who looks like Andy Griffith, on their first family vacation, her little sister still unborn so she’s got no one to tease.  And then comes a keenly cinematic moment which speaks as much about the actual memory as the ways in which we remember our pasts, preserved both in our minds but altered by our old photographs, and in this instance, Super-8  film.  The past becomes an amalgam of remembered experience and  captured myth, colored by the technology of the times which both preserves and transforms reality, and resounds  with the magic newness of childhood, the discovery of being human:

My mom is shooting Super 8s of gap-toothed little me

I’m chubby but I don’t know it yet, I’m happy just to be

Splashing towards the camera and waving like a fool

And jumping off the high dive at the Stardust Hotel pool.

All our luck is changing

Stars are rearranging…”

From “All Our Luck Is Changing”

By Claudia Russell & Bruce Kaplan.

Peter’s production throughout is just right, sensitively framing but never overwhelming them so that the stories are heard, and Claudia’s beautiful voice shines.  Using a handful of fine musicians – especially Carl Byron on organ, piano and accordion, Debra Dobkin on drums and percussion,and  the vivid violin and viola playing of Tom Tally – he brings the best out of each song, evoking an organic, timeless spirit. Its  an  elegant and textural journey through a chain of beautiful songs.

“Hey Hey,” which she wrote herself, is about that place where too many words get in the way, so grand and dramatic is the sweep of life and time, that the songwriter stands back and takes it in with few words. “Charleston” sounds like an old folk standard though it’s not, it’s a new one by Claudia which matches an exultant tune with a great sense of place, enlivened by Case’s harmonica and Claudia’s spirited vocal. Bruce Kaplan’s mandolin playing is especially nice on this one, happily coloring this “hotter than peaches in the noonday sun” tale.

“I Remember The Wind,” written by Claudia, is a sultry and cinematic song. Like the title song, it’s also a song about remembering, about that human intersection of actuality and myth. It’s got a great bluesy and brassy, melancholy but strident melody that would be perfect for Lady Day. Etched with a lovely sense of place and time, and beautifully rendered with  details like the “stale coffee and cinnamon gum/ and cold pick-up truck wine,” it resounds like a modern standard. Case wisely picked up on its timeless spirit, and enlisted Mike Fortunato to play haunting trumpet throughout the track with an eloquent solo that cuts right to the heart.

This is a masterpiece. Though everything she’s  done solo or with others has been great, sparked by the singular charm of her sweet voice and pure spirit, this is the best yet. With Peter Case at the helm and a new batch of beautifully realized songs, this is everything that is great about her and more. Her singing has never been more poignant or confidant, and these songs  come to life with an effortless spirit of genuine soul. This is heartwarming stuff, both inspirational and comforting at a time we need inspiration and comfort more then ever.  Listen to this – you’ll believe that it’s true – our luck is changing, stars are rearranging.  I think a change is finally gonna come.

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Read Peter Case’s column “Show Biz”:

http://bluerailroad.wordpress.com/xii-peter-cases-column/

Poetry: Ellyn Maybe

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ELLYN MAYBE:

An Irresistible Force

‘Ellyn Maybe is an irresistible force. To read or listen to her poetry is to be gently and completely crushed while simultaneously inspired and charmed. The honesty with which she so exquisitely reveals her vulnerabilities, desires and pain is beautiful and rare.”

— Henry Rollins

Bluerailroad, in our proud tradition of publishing the work of great poets including Mark Salerno, John Doe, Sean Heaney, Exene Cervenka, Edmund Martifice and others, is honored to publish a handful of poems by the great Ellyn Maybe.

Ellen has been enriching the Angeleno art world with her mind and spirit for some time. Her work has been included in many anthologies and she has had quite a few books published. Her fans include Greil Marcus, Henry Rollins, Jackson Browne, Earl Grey and the entire staff of Bluerailroad. She has toured internationally as a solo artist and with her band. Her latest musical project is a duet called Ellyn and Robbie. www.ellynandrobbie.com

For all things Ellen and her beautiful poetry: www.ellynmaybe.com
THERE WERE TWO GIRLS WHO LOOKED A LOT THE SAMEThey had eyelashes that looked like a hula skirt made of coal.
They blinked.
Once they were happy.
Twice they were bored.
Three times it was a comedy of manners.

They had a husky voice for the schoolyard and a girly voice when no one
was listening.
They laughed at the same jokes.
They both thought Steven Wright was hysterical.
They knew many show tunes by heart.
One would burst into All That Jazz, then she’d nod and the other would
launch into The Ladies Who Lunch.

They both loved Kubrick.
They both loved Truffaut.
One could quote from Dr. Strange Love.
One could quote from The 400 Blows.

They stayed up all night watching All About Eve, Mildred Pierce,
Annie Hall and Lolita.
Over and Over.

One wore rouge.
One just blushed.
One wore lipstick.
One bit her lip.

It looked like they wore glasses, but really it was a telescope.
The astronomy was tangible.

Both could fly.
It was matter of fact.
They were night owls, they liked crème brûlée and they could fly.

They mostly walked, they weren’t flaunters.

They studied the Renaissance.
They saw themselves writing sonnets and painting on ceilings.

They thought the body was 90 percent water and 10 percent confetti.
Of course they should celebrate.
Of course they should swim.

They kept calendars from every year the world had been breathing.
They knew where the first tear had been shed.
When the first apple had fallen far from the tree.

They went into melancholy as deeply as joy.

They memorized sce nes from A Streetcar Named Desire, Death of A Salesman
and The Iceman Cometh.
Then suddenly it was Gidget movies, American Bandstand and Grease.
They wanted a bite from each world.

One day they went shopping for mini skirts.
One was twirling.
One was somber.

The happy one said in a Noel Coward twang “ta ta, I want men to like me for
more than my mind.”
The other said, “you’ll get more than that. They won’t even notice your
mind.”

The happy one looked pathos in the eye as if she knew which horse would
win at the race track.

Men stuck to her like she had a fly paper ass.
She talked about Cicero and physics and after half an hour, looked up for
his hypotheses.
All he said was, “your clothes off or mine.”

She gulped.
She began speaking about the use of cinematography in Days of Heaven.
Rhapsodizing on Magic Hour technique.

He said, “do you believe in giving head or are you not that type of girl?”

What kind of girl was she?
She wouldn’t lie down and play dumb.
She was about to talk about allegory.

Suddenly the somber girl said “you thought life would be a picnic.
True, many carrots have been brought your way, but your face says it all.”
The formerly happy girl said, “what has life been like for you?”

Suddenly the somber girl is trading witty quips with the same guy.
They look blissful. They are talking of music.
Humming to each other.
Laughing.

Formerly happy says, “when does he interrupt to proposition you?”
Somber says, “he never does. No matter how happy he is with me,
he’s never that happy if you know what I mean.”

Then they simultaneously squealed,
“You’ve got it better than me.”
Happy said,” it’s a guys world.”
Somber said, “it’s a mad world too.”

Their anger gradually dissipated by the sheer absurdity.

Suddenly they looked identical
absolutely the same
radiant/defiant and everything in between.

© ellyn maybe

 

I HEARD WHAT SOUNDED LIKE A SONG

It sounded like la.
I started to hum with the knowing melody.
Suddenly the voice got louder and it didn’t sound like la anymore.
The voice said live.

I looked around and there was Joan of Arc.
She said Leonard Cohen got me right.
Music is the highest calling.
She said live.

I know it’s not easy being a woman who knows the difference between
Gene Kelly and Gene Krupa. Miles Davis and Miles Traveled.
I know how men make women wear armor of all kinds.

It’s natural to think of blowing out your candles.
When you read Tennessee Williams, many things go through one’s mind.

It’s hard to watch angels go to bed with wings and in the morning it’s ash.

Dreyer got it right.
T he soul is in the eyes.
Close-up.

She said I’m a trick candle.
They think they extinguished me, but I never completely go out.
Live.

My body is not my soul. Of course not.
I know martyrs from all times and seasons.

We play mahjong in Heaven, we read comic books.
We are not 24/ 7 serious.
That’s what really scared them.

Every them through history is afraid of what’s brimming and can’t be
controlled.
When she spoke, smoke came from her mouth like the grate of a Manhattan
street.
Like a dragon.

She nodded it’s my DNA now.
My descendants wherever they may be.
They will recognize each other.

Of course we can tell the chain smoker’s from the saints.
We are not naive.
Everyone wants a puff of immortality without having to die.
Death is a passing fancy.

Still for one glittering moment, I wanted a knight in shining armor to
rescue me.
Like Guinevere and Lancelot.
But I was King Arthur.

My hands were tied.
I assure you, I miss the grass I used to walk on barefoot.
My feet were so much dust so quickly.

I was a girl who played hopscotch.
I was a girl who picked berries and had little girl crushes.
I was a little girl.

Live hung in the air like the notes you hear after the opera is over.
The reverberations last forever.

© Ellyn Maybe

People

there are people
who hold an abridged tablet
of the ten commandments
in the space between their teeth and jaw.

there are people
who come into a room
with stardust on their breath
like a lullaby of backward halitosis.

there are people
who hold the planets together
by clicking their achilles heels three times.

there are people
who skywrite
without an airplane
without a net.

there are people
who twirl a room
like a rodeo for the sheepish.

there are people
who have bowling parties in their pajamas
while the rest of the world
seems like a pin
waiting for an angel to step out onto the dance floor.

there are people
who seem to have eyeball upon eyeball
like gumballs in an arcade of vision.

there are people
who walk into a room
a thermometer preceding them.

there are people
who wear their weather like perfume.

there are people
who know the cuckoo is the state bird
of most states of mind.

there are people
who went to the same high school
and spent each recess
in the lost and found room
uttering their phonetic name.

there are people
who will have conversations
deep as deathbed soliloquies
and never speak again.

there are people
who make whatever street they’re on
Telegraph Avenue 1964.

there are people
who write a shopping list
in hieroglyphics.

there are people
who look up at the sun
8000 times a day
and lack an eclipse.

there are people
who drag questions
from the tongue
like photos one second
before the crisp of a fire.

there are people
who ask nothing
and your heart sits like a blank check
in a bookstore that sells only elegy.

there are people
with a little past
behind their ears.

there are people
with a newscast on their eyebrows.

there are people
no matter how many apples they held
teachers resented them.

there are people
who ring many doorbells
but won’t let themselves in.

there are people
who light candles half the week
and swallow swords the rest.

there are people
who memorize the footprints
made by the snow.

there are people
who dine on shivers.

there are people
who chew on icicles
all year round.

there are people
who pray
with the nostalgia of baseball.

there are people
who laugh at life
openmouthed like a kiss.

© Ellyn Maybe