Saturday, October 04, 2014

Her Garden, Our Delight: Debby Schwartz

Debby Schwartz, casting her spell at Cake Shop
A couple of months ago, I wrote about Debby Schwartz's great EP, Satan, You Brought Me Down, which featured five unadorned songs in prelude to the release of her first album in 16 years. Well, now that album is here and it's a corker. A Garden Of My Own was produced by Ivan Julian, one of Richard Hell's original Voidoids and was released in late September by Twin Lakes Sounds, a small label with offices in Brooklyn and North Branford, CT. If there's any justice, this album will expand their base exponentially. 

Schwartz is now mining a deep vein of British and American folk and rock that is extremely rich and sometimes haunting. It was no surprise that she ended her recent show at Cake Shop with a cover of Led Zeppelin's The Battle Of Evermore, singing the Sandy Denny part nearly flawlessly, her voice pouring out like water. The Robert Plant part was ably sung by Karyn Kuhle, who had opened the show with her hard-rocking quartet. Reminding us that the blues were always a part of the early Stooges sound, she shredded her guitar very nicely at the intersection of Ron Asheton road and Albert King avenue. 

Karyn Kuhl, finding the note
Kuhle's sound was often over-amped and explosive, unrestrained and dynamic in an unfashionable way, slightly comic even, which had me uttering the words "Blue Cheer" to my friends at the bar during her version of Born Under A Bad Sign. One of them was too busy pounding the wood to notice. So, good fun with solid songs, a tight band, and tons of adrenalized guitar. Cake Shop's rough sound was a bit too bright, but still had plenty of punch and didn't detract much from her set.

Like Schwartz, Kuhle's been around a while, a Hoboken veteran who made noise in 80's with Gut Bank and in the 90's with Sexpod. Experience has paid off, however, and she's making the strongest music of her career just by letting it rip as if she hadn't a care in the world. 

[The following space is left blank on purpose. If I had the time or the energy to demolish Colin L. Orchestra's "performance," there is a lot I could say. Moving on...]

Finally - and I do mean finally - Debby Schwartz took the stage and instantaneously cast a spell over the room. Her right hand mesmerized me as she picked out the complex figures of Bulldozer on the thickest acoustic guitar I've ever seen. The sense of restraint, of an emotional dam ready to burst, heightened the suspense as she started each song and guided it to its conclusion. Throughout the night, the musicians on stage expanded or contracted as suited the song, but never overshadowed Schwartz.

She has a great stage presence, too, relaxed and engaging, with nothing precious about her, even though the material she is presenting is so finely wrought. She introduced Dreaming New York City in the Middle of LA by telling a brief anecdote about moving out west without a car: "Bad idea - but I got this song out of it!" And a great song it is, one of the more propulsive numbers on the album, featuring a some sharp lead guitar from James Mastro and chugging bass from Peter Stuart. When she played it live, it struck me that the genius of Dreaming New York City is that Schwartz seamlessly brings the pop-craft she honed during her years with The Aquanettas into her new and more substantive style. It's a brilliant synthesis and I would be surprised if WFMU and WFUV aren't already playing it.

In fact, there are a number of radio-ready songs on A Garden of My Own, from the sheer beauty of Hummingbird, with its detailed arrangement and slightly tricky rhythmic pattern, to the exuberance of My Hope, which has a chorus straight from the schoolyard, unleashing Schwartz's clarion upper range. "Listen to that," my wife said when I played it for her, and we did, struck dumb by the sheer talent, now fully realized by years of hard work and dedication. 

Even with all the equipment changes, which stretched the limits of Cake Shop's tiny stage (and it's sound system, which emitted an ambient buzz much of the time), the set moved smoothly from song to song, captivating the audience. When the last note was struck - too soon - it was as if everyone exhaled. But don't take my breathless word for it: get the album (or play it below). You can also listen for Debby on WFMU tomorrow (10/5) during Gaylord Fields's show or catch her live at Sidewalk Cafe on October 19th.

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