Liz Skillman and Joaquim - In the Middle
Artist: Liz Skillman and Joaquim
Title: In the Middle
Label: Hermione Records (www.hermrec.com)
Life has a way of throwing you curves, and, if you're an open circuit, taking you to unanticipated destinations. It helps you grow. I think of this now, because, if it wasn't for getting Gabriel Gordon's "Frequency" in the mail, followed by Clyde Wrenn, I wouldn't have gotten to Jennifer Marks and now Liz Skillman and Joaquim's "In the Middle." Singer songwriters and the roots-rock, folk-rock style was never mine. But if it's good, it's good, and when compared to pop music in other spheres (i.e., Brittany and the rest of them), is everything pop oughta be: musically simple, but fresh, and showing the emotional intensity of everyday life. This record does just that.
The first cut, "Room 13," opens with ringing, jangly, guitar chords, and a warbling, vocal, clarion call (thanks to a great tremolo vocal effect), reminiscent of Byrds, and Yo La Tango. Drummer Ted Marcus rocks subtly, with buzzing snare drum hits, and hi-hat cymbal work that create textures as he rocks the back beat, rising and falling with the voice and the song. Liz sings a declaration of love and jealousy, and asks for - respect? Commitment? "Hey my Love, what's up." This song makes me think back to things said by ex-girlfriends and my ex-wife in a new light. If only love interest ladies played us music by Liz Skillman, us guys would get the point. And maybe we'd feel more on the spot and freaked out behind our blank stare of feigned obliviousness.
"In the Middle of a Case of Champagne," is a ballad with a melodic bass line, by Kevin Makall, that almost sounds acoustic and guitar-like. The supple brush work on the drums adds a delicate, yet hyper, underpinning to the song, that keeps it pensive, waxing and waning with the emotional tide.
The album takes a turn for the intense on the song "Leave," the obligatory angry rock song, wherein she gives the business to a bogus boyfriend. The driving rhythm guitar, and blazing guitar fills give the song honesty and punch. Liz Skillman's imagery, and intense but restrained vocals, keep the song from the excess of Alanis Morrisette, to name one. "Hurricane" heads into psychedelia, with its flutter saxophone and electric guitar. It's nice to hear sax colors, and melodic interplay with the voice. Like I felt when I saw her play live, dammit, more sax by Felipe Flores.
"House of the Rising Sun" is a strong cover, done in the style of an otherworldly Irish Ballad, with droning guitar chords, and vocals delivered like a chanty. This positively reanimates this moldiest of moldy rock oldies.
The highlights of the album, though, are "Illuminate" and "Ice Storm." The latter's lyrics locate the elusive feeling of longing and sadness, and evokes self-pity that is honest and sincerely felt. "Ice Storm blowing though my living room, can't escape the icy draft of missing you. Just another winter's day in this town, . . ." I heard that. And "Illuminate" features open, ethereal, guitar chords, harmonium by Roy Harter, delicate playing by the rhythm section, and haunting, lyrical imagery, that reveals Skillman's past as a writer and poet: "Your face comes back vividly, a brief burst of you I cannot foresee . . ." The song captures the memory of an encounter and subsequent longing, plus the bliss of wonderment and a joyful fullness. This is rarely a moment of life illuminated in song: "Must I kneel at the pew of what is real when I still pray to the church of you?" This CD is available from Hermione Records. www.hermrec.com
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