Thursday, March 22, 2012

Jan Luby: "Nobody's Girl" (2011) CD Review

When it comes to music, there are certain topics that many of my friends are probably quite tired of hearing me carry on about. One of those is the folk music scene in Massachusetts in the late 1980s, early 1990s. There was so much great music at that time, and all of it new. There were also a good number of venues, including The Old Vienna Kaffeehaus, The Nameless Coffeehouse and Passim. Jan Luby was an important part of that scene, and I'd often catch her sets at those venues. Her songs were featured on compilations such as The Old Vienna Tapes Volume I and Acoustic Alliance 2.

And then I lost track of her. She put out an album in 2000 (Tough Like A Weed), and then nothing for more than a decade. But now she's back with a new album and plans to perform. And this is very good news. So what was she doing the past decade? She went the family route, and that's fine, for it provided her with some material for her new CD. (Singing about raising a family isn't completely new for her; she used to perform an excellent song about public breastfeeding called "Product Of The '50s.")

I've always liked Jan Luby's voice, and her style. This is a wonderful batch of songs, and I look forward to seeing her perform them.


Nobody's Girl opens with "Bloom" which boasts a cool rhythm and an even cooler horn. But what I love the most is the line, "You know, I've been wondering, Mommy, if it's painful for a flower when it blooms." This is a song about a mother trying to decide just what to tell her daughter, who is about to bloom herself.

Jan sings, "Some evening she will feel the tug of the moon/And no matter what I say she's going to turn and go/Some things I don't know/Some I don't want to tell her/It's a beautiful big sweet scary world/And you won't always be my little girl." This is a damn good song. By the way, that is Steven Bernstein on trumpet.

"Come Home"

"Come Home" is a sweet and pretty acoustic tune about being true to one's self. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "Because I remember who you are even if you've forgotten/But what can I offer/You have to figure it out on your own/It's time to come home/Come home to yourself/No, not home to me/Come home to yourself." And who doesn't at some time need to hear someone say, "You're going to be fine." Kevin Fallon plays mandolin on this track.

"A Roof And Four Walls"

"A Roof And Four Walls" has a nice old European feel, helped by Kevin Fallon's excellent work on violin. This is a song about poverty, sung from the perspective of a person who lived paycheck to paycheck, unable to save, and "Then the clouds rolled in on me/And here it is - my rainy day." This is a person who had a home; she sings, "I once had a life/Now it seems I have nothing at all." There is still pride in her voice, heard in lines like "There's no room at the shelter, but I wouldn't go there anyway." This song also touches on the uncertainty and instability of everyone's situation, the reason why people often look away: "They don't want any reminders they could soon be in our place."

Jan Luby tackles the subject of financial struggles again in "Nothin' To Show" with its repeated line, "How is it that I work like a dog/Still got nothin' to show." And a lot of us can relate to these lines: "Food stamps, they help a little bit/But when I use them I feel ashamed/Even when the cashier says 'Have a nice day.'"

"Newer Bigger Better More"

As you might know, I'm always on the hunt for good Christmas songs. They're hard to find. Well, this CD has two. The first, "Newer Bigger Better More," is about shopping the day after Thanksgiving. In this one, Jan sings, "And we're waiting here in line/We're huddled at the door/When they open, we'll rush in/Trample anything on the floor/Feeling anxious and afraid/Finding solace in a store/I'll be so happy once I have newer bigger better more." She mentions the strategies of shopping (geez, even the fact that one is needed is enough to keep me away from the stores on that horrid day). This song ends with the line, "Tis the season to be jolly/Yeah." Geoff Bartley plays guitar on this track. Joe Potenza plays bass.

The second, "Christmas Eve/Visiting Hour" is an excellent song about singing carols at a jail. Here is a bit of the lyrics: "We wish you a merry Christmas/And then we go our separate ways/You call and wave goodbye to us/And go back to counting days/Meet us on the outside next year." I've never heard a song like this one before.

"Comfortable Love"

"Comfortable Love" is a strange love song where there is no romance but a lot of regard. She sings, "And it's not like it was in the beginning/All the fireworks, the hunger and the longing/But when he sits beside me with a hand on my knee/There's a steady warmth that spreads all through me/It's a comfortable love." Is it sweet or sad? Yes. Kevin Fallon plays bass on this track.

"Moon Folly"

The song "Moon Folly" has a great beauty, in part created by the harmony vocals of Michal Lauren. It's a fanciful song about catching and keeping the moon. Here is a bit of the lyrics: "And then I will sit by the fire all night/Sit by the fire all day/I will gnaw at the moon to my heart's delight/Till I gnaw her slowly away/And while I grow mad with the moon's cold taste/The world will beat at my door/Crying come out, and crying make haste, my friend/And give us the moon once more." The lyrics for this song come from a Fannie Stearns Davis poem.

CD Track List
  1. Bloom
  2. Come Home
  3. Right Left Right
  4. A Roof And Four Walls
  5. Newer Bigger Better More
  6. Nobody's Girl
  7. Christmas Eve/Visiting Hour
  8. Everything We Do
  9. Comfortable Love
  10. Nothin' To Show
  11. Right Here
  12. Moon Folly
  13. Don't Look Away
  14. This Little Moment
Nobody's Girl was released on October 25, 2011.

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