Andi Hoffman & B-Goes,
Basil for Nino
(BTW, 1999)

Just when you think you've gotten every category of music nailed down, along comes someone like Andi Hoffman and a CD like Basil for Nino. Here is an album which defies neat classification, combining hints of a range of musical genres into a unique and fresh sound.

Andi Hoffman & B-Goes is Andi Hoffman (vocals, guitars, accordion), Elisabeth Gill (vocals), Tom Marron (fiddle, harp [I think they mean "harmonica" here], low vocals), Tom McDonald (bass, jew's harp, vocals) and Mark Whitaker (drums, percussion). Their sound is rooted in folk and folk-rock, but it blends in a bluesy touch, a suggestion of Cajun, a dash of pop, chugging country rhythms and rock backbeats. Hoffman's vocals are a bit nasal and scratchy but not unpleasant; he sounds like Elvis Costello with more philosophy and less anger. Gill has a stunning voice, clear and rich and at once piercingly cool and melting as warmly as butter and syrup. (Think Cookie Rankin goes to New Orleans and you're close.) It's a strong voice without sounding stressed and meshes well with both Hoffman's vocals and the backup.

Hoffman's lyrics are mostly about love, pain and alienation. They resonate in the listener, such as the simple observation in "Jellyfish Heartache" (itself both a great title and evocative image): "your life is in the fast lane / so is mine / but you're not in a hurry now / you're ahead of the time ... you can't buy love / but you get mine for free." Hoffman captures a sense of loss in "Man of the Past" or how everything can go awry in "True Believer."

There's a nursery rhyme quality to "Down in the Bayou," yet the song harbors a dark undercurrent: "Down in the bayou where the angels cry / The water gets high, the water gets high / down in the bayou where the angels cry / you'll never see the light again." The steady bass drum beat, the almost singsong melody and Gill's pure and angelic harmonies provide an effect both ethereal and eerie. The song fades into the sound of a downpour that is a soothing and reflective conclusion to the CD. If you're listening with headphones, however, don't be surprised if you keep looking out the window to see if it's really raining.

One of the tracks is an autobiographical story narrated by Nino Bongiorno, a restauranteur and friend of Hoffman's. It takes listening to the track a few times to fully understand it, but it's a fascinating slice of life. Yes, he is the Nino for whom the CD is named.

Liner notes are printed on the backs of tiny (just smaller than an average business card) reproductions of Eveline Hoffman's black and white photographs, stark and startling images that invite contemplation. They're a little awkward to keep track of, but the idea is original and very cool nevertheless.

For a unique and cohesive sound, pick Andi Hoffman & B-Goes and Basil for Nino.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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