I've always been fascinated by the unstated hypocrisies expressed by women artists refuting their past in contrast to present "enlightenments". Tori Amos, in her prolific and impressive output, pursues the theme quite well, but it's not a modern device. Melanie Safka, Janis Ian, Joan Baez, and others traced this deer path as well. Alyse Black's opening track, Strange (Used Me Up), is just such a song, and the title isn't an adjective but a noun, a vulgar one, referring to, well, a regularly visited unattached piece of ass rather than a love affair (um, we're all adults here, we can talk this way, right?).
Strange cuts in on the eye-opening of a woman who allowed herself to be used by a guy who figured why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? This arrangement, however, was purrrrfectly fine with her right up to the moment consequences became real, and the gent decamped for greener pastures and randier denizens. Then wrath and indignity stepped in, and thus the song. How dare he exercise the option she was abetting? Why…it's positively unfair! Oh, the horrible horrible male, to do exactly what the completely innocent female was cultivating! O tragedy, o pathos! So runs the soap opera, and the amusement to an onlooker can, I think, be easily guessed.
Then comes the second cut, Both Ways (Dream of You) and the competing irony of a narrator who tells us "I just wanna have it both ways…I can't stand that I can't have it both ways". Hmmm…a connecting theme there, ya think? Such sentiments used to appear, when the culture was much more intelligent than it is now, under the twin headings of Greed and Narcissism, but then that's so "tres anciens", no? Nonetheless, are the scenarios the product of the artistic mind interposing other eyes and thoughts or of the composer's own habitude and ego? Hard to tell, but one can't fault Ms. Black for her oft nakedly sensual delivery throughout the disc (catch Willowing for a high point) in a voice combining Katrina (and the Wave), Edie Brickell, and Tori Amos with and a be-bop era pulse, Rickie Lee-esque in its hip tones and beat.
The overall feel of this CD is somber even though it has energetic areas, and Black embellishes well with her own keyboards abetted by a quartet of helpers. There's a gauzy Kate Bush air here, a Drowning Not Waving soporific tone there, an October Project wistfulness prevalently, and a hushed 4AD undercurrent pervasively, so this means romance a-plenty. Hold Onto This is a great disc to get melancholy over, novo-madrigal with its largo'ed blues and unrequited—or over-requited or even unlocated—true love Byronic laments. You'll have to decide for yourself, though, the poetic dilemma I've laid out.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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