Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Ellen Foley: “Fighting Words” (2021) CD Review

Like a lot of folks, I first became aware of Ellen Foley while listening to Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell album. She is the woman who makes him swear he’ll love her to the end of time in “Paradise By The Dashboard Light.” It’s a phenomenal vocal performance. Even if she had done nothing else, she would be loved for what she does in that song. But of course, she’s done quite a lot since then. You can hear her on the Clash albums Sandinista! and Combat Rock (she dated Mick Jones for a while), and on Blue Öyster Cult’s Mirrors. You can also see her in the film version of Hair, singing “Black Boys” (she was also in the Broadway revival of the musical in 1977, playing Sheila). In fact, some people know her more for her acting career, with roles in Tootsie, Fatal Attraction and Married To The Mob, as well as the television series Night Court, where she played Billie Young. In addition, Ellen Foley has put out several solo albums, beginning with 1979’s Night Out. Her new album, Fighting Words, features mostly original material, written by Paul Foglino. She also covers “Heaven Can Wait,” a song written by Jim Steinman and included on Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell. Her vocal chops are just as great as ever, and the music here combines rock and country. Joining the vocalist on this album are Slim Simon on guitar; Paul Foglino on guitar and bass; Michael Jung on guitar; Stephen B. Antonakos on guitar; C.P. Roth on bass, keys, and drums; Mark Ettinger on bass and keys; J.C. Chmiel on bass; and Steve Goulding on drums. On backing vocals are Ula Hedwig, Rachelle Garniez and Karla DeVito.

The album opens with a fun rock number, “Are You Good Enough,” that at first sounds like something right out of 1981 (it might remind you of Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll”). Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I don’t care about the hearts that you used to break/I don’t care about the drugs that you used to take/I don’t want to hear your stories all about your life of crime/Don’t waste my time/I’ll know that you’re no good/I’d fix you if I could.” But my favorite lines are these: “I don’t care how many steps you covered in recovery/That don’t matter to me.” Oh man, I love that sexy delivery of “That don’t matter to me.” This is a completely enjoyable track, with some wonderful touches on guitar. That’s followed by “Be Nice,” which has a cool, kind of sly vibe at the start and during the verses. She then raises the energy for the chorus, in which she encourages anyone who wants to get close to this woman to be polite and nice. “When you hear her talk, listen/Get wise, don’t deceive her/And if she lies, believe her.”

The energy is high for “I’m Just Happy To Be Here,” which, in addition to strong vocal work, features some wonderful work on keys. Karla DeVito joins Ellen Foley on vocals here, and the song is performed as a duet. Karla DeVito, as you might know, toured with Meat Loaf in the late 1970s, and in the video for “Paradise By The Dashboard Light,” it is Karla that you see, though Ellen that you hear. So it is something special to have the two singing together here. “When we were good, we were good/And when we were bad, we were good at it.” I don’t doubt that for a moment. We’ve all come through some stuff, haven’t we? And in these uncertain days, sometimes it’s good to reflect on how we’re fortunate to be here at all. “All of the harm that I’ve done/Seems like I just hurt myself/I’m so glad to be here now.” There is also a playful moment when they ask, “Can you hear me?/Can you hear me?/Is this thing even on?” Ellen Foley then dips into country with “I Call My Pain By Your Name,” which was written by Paul Foglino and Tom Meltzer. And, wow, she can totally and truthfully inhabit the country realm just as easily as the rock world. She delivers another remarkable vocal performance here. Check out these lines: “You say you don’t like blowing smoke/You say it’s only words, that’s not what love’s about/But now I see if you ain’t blowing smoke at me/That’s because the fire is out.”

There are only two covers on this album. The first is Wilson Pickett’s “I Found A Love,” Ellen’s version capturing that classic soul sound. I love when she nearly whispers, “But it’s the way that man talks, baby, he’s my heart’s desire,” like she is confessing something to us, taking almost a conspiratorial tone. It’s wonderful stuff. That’s followed by “I’ll Be True,” which has a rock sound, combined with some blues elements. It’s a song in which she promises, “I’ll be true to you/No matter what I do/Or who I do it to/I’ll be true to you.” Then “Come On Love” has a delicious, soulful rhythm and a bright vibe. “Come on love, hear my plea/Come on love, be good to me.” This is a song for emerging from the darkness, something most of this nation can get behind. “Come on, love, and hold me/I don’t want to cry no more.”

“Fill Your Cup” begins gently, with acoustic guitar, a song that reaches out to us in these difficult times. “It’s a hard, hard world/Make it easier/It’s a cold world/Warm it up/It’s a mean, mean world/Give it kindness.” It remains difficult to combat all the stupidity and iniquity in this country with warmth and kindness, but it is something to keep striving toward, a worthy goal. That’s followed by “This Won’t Last Forever,” which was written by Paul Foglino and Ellen Foley. The title of this song is something a lot of us have told ourselves over and over during the pandemic, and perhaps even more during the previous four years of corruption and meanness. “I’m not going to lie/I just want to try/To tell the story straight and tell it well/This won’t last forever/It can’t go on and on.” “Leave Him Janie” is a fun, lively song, and one of empowerment. It is also one you might soon be singing along to. “But if you stay, he’ll bleed you dry/It’s time for us to leave him.” The album concludes with its second cover, “Heaven Can Wait,” written by Jim Steinman, who recorded it as a demo in the early 1970s. Bette Midler also recorded a demo of it in 1972. But the recording we all know is that by Meat Loaf, included on that excellent Bat Out Of Hell album in 1977. Here Ellen Foley puts her own spin on it, delivering a beautiful rendition, the perfect ending to this album. “I won’t look back/I won’t look back/Let the altar shine.”

CD Track List

  1. Are You Good Enough
  2. Be Nice
  3. I’m Just Happy To Be Here
  4. I Call My Pain By Your Name
  5. I Found A Love
  6. I’ll Be True
  7. Come On Love
  8. Fill Your Cup
  9. This Won’t Last Forever
  10. Leave Him Janie
  11. Heaven Can Wait

Fighting Words was released on August 6, 2021 through Urban Noise Music.

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