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White Soul From Wayphoria: Liz Skillman and Joaquim
By Mark Kirby
(more articles from this author)
2002-11-06
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Dear Liz,

I know I told you a couple of months ago that I would get to your CD and check it out. Well, I did! When you played that crummy little scenester bar, 9C, in that urban suburb of the East Village once known as "Alphabet City," that is so spiffy and lacquered with the veneer of high rent respectability, I could barely hear your delicate songs and the tasty playing of your band mates above the din of babbling bar flies who clearly came and paid the cover charge for no other reason than to babble inanely, ignore the music (except clapping at the end of songs) and bug the living shit out of me.

This is yet another argument in favor of gun control. It might have been worth a furnished studio on Death Row and a reservation in hell, given the somber, introspective mood I was in at the time, to kill dozens of people so I could hear the delicate songs and tasty playing. Did I already say that?

I don't mean that your stuff is girly or wimpy. It's as intense as your face appears on the CD cover - hands covering your mouth and nose and those eyes (have you considered contact lens modeling?). I mean to say that your music is not the loud, shit-footed, indie-rock crap that most people are probably used to. They sorta chilled when you did "Jameson," but song was closer to your old Joaquim sound, which had a bit more bombast. New Yorkers, jeez.

"Wayphoria," "The Other Woman Song," "Delirious" (not your daddy's 'Prince' song, but a folk song like your old singer songwriter stuff), "Tourniquet" and the brilliant "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" sounded good that night. And on the record they sound cool, too. I tried to think about how to describe your music and, of course, what to compare it to.

The best I could come up with is to say you're a reinvention of Tony Joe White and Bobbi Gentry, minus the deep southern roots, Tony's bellbottoms and Bobbi's big hair. But with a lot of their soul, if not their '60s rhythm and blues flava. Or should I say soulfulness, because that's the state so often missed by singer-songwriters, that glorious region of sincerity and emotional truth that bypasses the maudlin, cartoon passions of retched stuff like . . . take your pick of any Pop, R&B, Metal Hop, Indie, Emo crapola that pollutes the mind (I will now pause and take a deep breath).

You don't front, you let the music do the talkin'. I especially like the way that you avoid that legion-of-white-college-grad girls whiny, fako profundo coffee shop lyrics that express "feelings" and "thoughts" that are best kept in a journal. That's enough of that. Listen, I gotta go, the readers are here and I gotta hang out with them for a bit.

With oodles of love,

Kirby

Dear Readers,

Liz Skillman and Joaquin's new record, Wayphoria, is an introspective and more focused offering than her debut, In the Middle. In place of some of that record's harder, looser edges is a more unified sound. Ms. Skillman's voice is both more mature and precise, as well as delicate and breathy. The production makes it seem as though she talking to me, or you, the listener, in a bar or coffee shop, with the band playing loud enough to be happening, but not drown out the conversation.

The pop hooks are less predictable, and with greater use of extended bridges and choruses, the song writing is a cut above the average verse-chorus-verse yadadayada song structure of almost that you hear. The instrumental sparseness and heavy, laid back drumbeats give the music a country drawl. When combined with her singing, the music recalls a bevy of influences, yet at the same time, has its own thing.

The CD starts with the title track. "Wayphoria" is a laconic song that builds off of a slow guitar riff, simple bass and drums. With the subtle use of dynamics, the repeating, interlocking guitar, bass, and drum parts are transformed and convey the different emotions behind the lyrics.

The same stoned, country-flavored (ala Willie Nelson) groove in on the next track "The Other Woman Song." It builds the same way step-ladder-intensity style and the first track, but multi-musician and producer Roy Harter colors the song with a vintage Vox organ, giving the song a '60s Garage-Psychedelic touch.

Just like the great subtle-rockers from days of yore - Tony Joe, Bobbi, and Neil Young's earlier albums with those wicked Jack Nietzsche arrangements - Liz and Joaquin use strings to great effect on "Jameson's." More than an ode to her favorite whiskey, it's a poetic portrait of disconnection, perhaps the end of a relationship, set to music with an anxious, harsh rock edge.

"I'm on the beach with a bottle of Jameson's / . . . And I have finally seen that we have finally reached ground zero / And I swear to you there was a time when I'd do any piece of this thing/ I've done my time with the man who drew the line that I could never get into/ And I don't suppose that you know an antidote for me/ . . . and you seem surprised at what I have done / and I hold your gaze, though I ought to bow my head to you."

Most of the other songs are more in the mold of the title song. An exception is Ms. Skillman's slower, grimmer take on the Band classic "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." Like their first CD's reinvention of "The House of the Rising Sun," they take on another cover with an original version so signature that it begs for a rote rendition. This version, however, is less a southern stoner chill out than a sad, moan by an exhausted, beaten foe.

Other great songs on the CD include the acoustic solo folk number "Delirious" and Neil Young and Crazyhorse sounding two minute wonder, "Three Things." This song captures the slow-grooved guitar wash reminiscent of their live show. Which, by the way, I'll check out again, even if it is in some stupid, East Village hell bar like 9C. Check out her website www.hermrec.comand get the CD.

Now I gotta go feed the fish and water the plants. Keep on keepin' on.

Sincerely

Kirby


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