Mother Tongue

Camille West

(MT 102)
Mother Tongue Music
P. O. Box 4299
Queensbury, NY 12804

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
By David Schultz

Folk music had its humorists long before Christine Lavin appeared on the scene in the early 1980s. With her mix of outrageous songs interspersed with serious ballads and love songs, Christine Lavin re-energized folk, welcoming new audiences and performers to the genre. Everyone's happy, right? Then along comes Camille West! Camille is like Christine Lavin on ten cups of espresso. Her debut Mother Tongue is a whole album of truly funny songs.

Subtitled "Maternal Madness Month by Month," Mother Tongue tells the stories of twelve disparate women who socialize together once a month. Each story is told from one of the women's viewpoint, and each song is written in a different style: a sea shanty ("The Nervous Wreck of Edna Fitzgerald"), an anthem ("L.A.F.F. (Ladies Against Fanny Floss)"), an Oktoberfest polka ("The Viennese Drinking Song"), and a political-humor rag ("Candidate's Wife Rag"). This album holds together as a coherent work despite this variability in style.

Unlike a bad "Airplane" movie, the puns, jokes, and prattfalls on Mother Tongue don't wear thin on repeated listenings. And the catchy melodies penned by Camille urge you to play it again and again.

For example, January's entry ("Getting Raptured") is told by Nora, who has recurring nightmares about the "heavenly Electrolux on super suck" taking all the pious people up to heaven and leaving all the sinners down on earth, including "Madonna, my mother-in-law, and me." February's tale, as told by Lulu in "Root Canal of the Heart," describes her unrequited love for her dentist Roger Wingtip and the pain which "cannot be diminished with Novocaine." In May is a Mother's Day tale told by Margo (the title track). It's a melange of all the cliched phrases that a mother ever used to scold you.

Other months include August, which brings the close of swimwear season and Sally's plea with fashion designers, urging the creation of a bathing suit that fits the ordinary woman ("L.A.F.F."). "Swimsuits abound for the 98-pounder whose legs alone measure five feet. Here's a fine idea: try a line this year for women who actually eat." And closing out the year is the story of Phyllis, the physicist from Philadelphia who must face her "Fear of Flying" while on her holiday trip.

Camille so impressed the audience at the 1994 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival with "L.A.F.F." as a sing-a-long that she returned in 1995 as part of the Most Wanted artist Song Swap, among such other up-and-coming singer/songwriters as Peter Mulvey, Ellis Paul, and Madwoman in the Attic.

Camille has surrounded herself on Mother Tongue with local folk heros from upstate New York--Joan Crane, Tony Trischka, Bridget Ball and Christopher Shaw, and Peggy Eyres--giving her freshman effort a professional, polished finish which does not smack of overproduction.

If you're looking for a special present for your mother, give the gift of Camille West.

[Edited by Shawn Linderman]
This review is copyrighted by Three Rivers Folklife Society, 1996.
It may be reproduced with prior permission and attribution.

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