Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Queen Crowned

Tracey Thomas.  Queen of Nothing.
Relevart Records, 2012.   Tracey Thomas:

I’m a sucker for songs I can sing along with.  Melody and harmony are things I really appreciate (although they’re not the only things).  This makes it difficult for me to relate to some bands, but very easy for me to enjoy Tracey Thomas’s new album, Queen of Nothing.  She combines rock, country, and folk into a rich Americana stew that, while reminiscent of other performers on occasion (Kathy Mattea and Roseanne Cash come to mind), is clearly her own artist.  This is her sixth release since 1994 (not counting her best-of album also released this year), and her first since 2007’s Ghost Town.  Her work has continued to grow and mature into a lushness that is a real treat to hear.

Thomas began her career in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with the Akron band Unit 5, a part of the post-punk scene from the era.  By the early 1990s, she was in the different space of alternative rock with Persona 74 (what’s with the numbers?).  It seems that she’s comfortable with just about anything, and has steadily moved in her own direction.  She’s opened for just about everybody from the Dead Boys to Michael Stanley.  It’s about time somebody opened for her.

Thomas’s choice of which side of her style to emphasize varies from track to track.  “Queen of Nothing” is a great country rock piece that showcases her gorgeous voice.  “Better than Anyone” heads even closer to rock/pop, but by the time she gets to “Blue Eyes,” she’s in the folk realm, more acoustic and introspective.  We are back to a pretty strong rocker in “Falling Down,”  with great background vocals from Ryan Humbert (the producer) and Emily Bates.  “Hey, Save Me” is in the same vein, with strong vocals, excellent musicianship, and great hooks.  With “Blind & Faithful” she’s back to the introspective, with some great piano backing by Tim Longfellow.  Most of the songs were co-written with Humbert, except for the title track by Thomas alone, and one song by Humbert.  

I see only minor missteps, and only found one tune less than enjoyable, the somewhat overly anthemic “Weathering the Storm,” which sounds a bit too earnest and derivative of some of the so-called folk music sometimes played on WKSU.  I would also recommend including a lyric sheet, or alternatively, posting the lyrics on the web page.  It will prevent me from making one of those “There’s a Bathroom on the Right” gaffs while singing along. I look forward to listening to all of her older albums, and her new retrospective.  Great stuff!

Performers:  Tracey Thomas (lead vocals), Ryan Humbert (harmony vocals, guitars, mandolin), Emily Bates (harmony vocals), Tim Longfellow (piano, Wurlitzer, organ), Mark Middleton (drums), Mark Jendrasik (bass), Benjamin Payne (percussion, bass), Michael Houff (violin, viola, string arrangements), Derek Snyder (cello).
Tracks:  Queen of Nothing, Hope Flies, Better than Anyone, Blue Eyes, Falling Down, This World, Hey, Save Me, Blind & Faithful, Weathering the Storm, Every Little Time, Space Enough.

The Grand Wazoo

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