by Brad Roberts
Pam Shaffer held a record release show at Hotel Cafe the other night (Thursday, March 14) for It Is Happening Again, and was very impressive. She has gathered a band which includes a string section of two violins and a bass violin, drums and Pam on piano. I don't get to hear nearly enough piano playing and it was refreshing to see a performer spend all her time at the keys. Her voice is both strong and subtle and her clear delivery make the most of her lyrics.
Augmented by this fantastic string section, lead by Nikita Sorokin, who is a most charismatic performer as well as virtuoso on the violin, the music often veered off into purely orchestral arrangements and had the quality of a film soundtrack. Michael Ibarra adds depth with his bass violin and they were joined on some songs by Julie Carpenter on second violin creating a lush musical environment. Drummer Ben Lecourt would lead the music back to it's alt country/indie rock roots.
The well-constructed songs are centered around plain-spoken and personal observations about love, in its different aspects. Opening with a song about love/betrayal, "Drowning" off the new album, this number has a pounding determination. Love/illusion is the theme of "Dandelion". "Orpheus", dealing with love/salvation, has a gorgeously atmospheric string arrangement. A real beauty was the song articulating love/need, "Absence Gained" with a lovely piano solo In all, seven songs from the new album ending with the first two album cuts, two songs Pam described as nice healthy love/anger songs, "Heliotrope" and "Remember This".
Watching these performers, my mind went into a reverie about the fantastic musical talent pool that is available in the city of Los Angeles. There seems to be no shortage of gifted musicians out there from which one is able to pick up some very well trained talent that thrives in a city founded on the arts. Not only the home-grown artists, but all the vast multitudes that migrate here every year to pursue their dreams. It's why I'm here. Thanks, Pam, for the mental voyage.
The perfect compliment to this set was Little Red Lung, who held court with a band of four and I must say there was no loss of quality in this incarnation of the band compared with the band of over eight that I saw last year at Eagle Rock Center for the Arts. The impressive psychedelic/orchestral sweep that characterized that performance is intact even with fewer players. The new, stripped-down arrangement for "50 Fingers" opened the set and was beautifully rendered. Zoe-Ruth's commanding voice is front and center, but the contributions of the other musicians is considerable. Her long auburn hair sweeps back and forth across her keyboard as she casts loving gazes at Ali Nikou on lead guitar while their sounds interweave and mingle. Rob Hume played bass and added vocals, while John Broeckel rounded out the band on drums.
Mixing up the set with songs from earlier recordings and a wonderful new song, we look forward to the upcoming full-length release she stated is in the works. Like Pam Shaffer, Zoe-Ruth Erwin's music is concerned with relationships, but on a more metaphysical level. Makes me kind of feel like we're spaceships floating around in outer space, who occasionally bump into each other. Both sets had a mystical, hypnotic quality, causing my mind to race back to the first female rock and roll/folk singers I became entranced by in the late '60s. People like Mary Travers, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, and the others, all of whom displayed a bold and brave fearlessness that I admired.
I get some of that same feeling watching some of the fantastic women who are part of the local scene now. As with Pam Shaffer and Zoe-Ruth Erwin, there is nothing hesitant or tentative, yet for all the powerful passages both artists know when to hold back and let restraint take over, as it possesses its own power. They are definitely pushing on the boundaries.