Recordings

Marianne Faithfull
A Secret Life
(Island)

Back in 1987, a reviewer described Strange Weather as "music to slit your wrists by" -- which then delighted Marianne Faithfull. But the times, they've been a-changing, and A Secret Life is hardly a soundtrack for suicide. These lushly arranged 10 tracks, composed with Angelo (Twin Peaks) Badalamenti, are poignant enough, but the sentiment here is more redolent of transcendence than weltschmerz.

Once, all Faithfull needed to be transported from pop-royalty consort to immortal (i.e., dead) rock footnote was to shrug off this mortal coil while young enough to leave a beautiful corpse. But instead of doing her duty and dying young, this junkie kicked the habit and stayed clean. And, to paraphrase onetime inamorato Mick Jagger, time certainly does seem to be on her side.

Faithfull herself describes the release as "the most perfect manifestation of my own mental film that I've had yet." She concludes "Bored by Dreams" with the spine-chilling invocation: "After a certain age, every artist works with injury." And "Losing," perhaps the album's most melancholy track, is also the singer's self-professed favorite. No wonder, with lines like, "I don't know who you think you're cheating/ Or with whom you have been sleeping/ But all the shit that you've been eating/ Says you're losing." Ouch. The lovely orchestration behind "The Stars Line Up" provides a bittersweet final act, with that distinctive, throaty voice yearning to "see what we know, baby/ And write our names high up inside the sky." A bemused Faithfull points out that this track is "the first song I've ever written that's about hope."

While her official promotional tour doesn't kick off until fall, Marianne is hitting a few towns with an intimate cabaret that will include songs by Kurt Weill. Considering that Weill's tunes teeter precariously between the grim and the hilarious, it's an evening that's not likely to leave people looking for the nearest open window. Unless, of course, they can't get tickets.

-- Julene Snyder
Marianne Faithfull plays Fri, April 14, at Slim's in S.F.; call 255-0333.

Myles Boisen
Guitarspeak
(Rastacan)

For Splatter Trio guitarist Myles Boisen, the six-string is not so much an instrument for picking notes and chords as it is a vehicle for evocative aural hallucinations. By learning to maximize the instrument's processing effects and feedback control over the years, Boisen has transformed his electric ax into an enigmatic beast. It barks, growls, whinnies, cries, squeals, reels and screams, but it never lies down and plays dead. In fact, the myriad tonal permutations on Guitarspeak, Boisen's 28-song debut as a band leader, transform the very image of a stringed instrument into something alien and wondrous, in which wood, wire, plastic and metal dissolve into a per-petually metamorphosing being: an antic poltergeist on "Ladakh"; a chittering metallic gremlin on "Tar"; an undulating angel-spirit on "Toothless Miracle Bend."

This surreal soundscape is the result of some serious studio time. First, Boisen laid down nearly four hours of guitar solos as a foundation, the structural skeletons for development into flesh-and-blood songs. After assiduously transcribing parts and honing the arrangements, he enlisted the talents of numerous improviser pals, including Ralph Carney, Tom Djll, Fred Frith and, of course, his Splatter partners Gino Robair and Dave Barrett. The result is a seamless mixture of twisted rhythms and sly melodicism, at once liquid and fuzzy, poised but off-kilter. Quasi-ballads like "Pibroch" and "Camera Hidden Backwards in a Hat" fuse the typically contrary euphony and dissonance in a way that renders those labels meaningless. Boisen's radical approach toward composition razes the boundaries between scored and improvised music -- no small feat for a mere guitar player.

-- Sam Prestianni
Myles Boisen and special guests play Sun, April 16, at the Kilowatt in S.F.; call 861-2595.

Mary Lou Lord
Mary Lou Lord
(Kill Rock Stars)

Mary Lou Lord is an unheralded underground songwriter whose lack of mainstream success -- or even tributary success -- is a modern rock mystery. If Juliana Hatfield (who lends harmony on one track) can be a guest MTV VJ, Lord should be an advice columnist for Sassy at the very least. Her new release, curiously short at 25 minutes, features four of her own songs and four uncommon covers. Recorded straight with no effects or studio slickness, it evokes the subways and street corners where Lord earned her chops and paid her dues.

Her songs are not based around riffs (like Van Morrison's) or hooks (like Belly's), but just a few simple chords. "Lights Are Changing," the opening track and the only one with a backing band, is as catchy as any classic American pop song. It uses a familiar, four-bar descending chord progression that got my head bopping and imagining a tinny car radio late at night. "His Indie World" is a funny and specific indictment of categorization, defeating the tunnel vision that was supposed to die upon indie rock's ascent. It sounds like it was penned for some A&R rep: "I don't think I fit into this indie world/ Guided by Voices and Velocity Girl/ Eric's Trip and Rocket Ship/ Rancid and Rocket From the Crypt/ Bikini Kill and Built to Spill." Recalling neither the breathy whitewash of Tanya Donnelly nor the manic manipulations of Polly Harvey, Lord's voice sounds honest and unaffected: just a girl with a guitar and a heart.

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