Lindsay Mac,
Small Revolution
(Red Cello, 2005)

Lucy lives a mundane modern life, but she remembers her dreams of something better. Lindsay Mac tells her story in the opening track of Small Revolution -- and, I confess, I might have passed it by if it weren't for the gypsy-inflected cello that dips and soars through the music. Lindsay isn't just telling me about Lucy's dreams, she's showing them to me.

After such a good opening, there was no question of handing this disc off to another reviewer. It was a good decision, and Small Revolution remained in my car for several weeks of seasoning before I could bring myself to eject the disc and bring it in for review. I'm sorry for the delay, Lindsay, but I really had no say in the matter.

Lindsay is a dedicated singer-songwriter in a folk-pop vein and with various jazz and funk influences readily apparent. Her voice -- strong, sweet and cynical, and very expressive -- is not her only instrument, however; she adds spice to her arrangements with plucked and bowed cello, an unusual but decisive choice that makes her songs especially fresh. She is classically trained, but delightfully free of musical inhibitions.

With one exception, the songs here are originals, and Lindsay crafts stories and moods that are both entertaining and sophisticated. Lindsay follows "Lucy" with more songs that court a theme of personal freedom. "Use Me," written by Bill Withers, is a funky, liberated approach to sexual gratification ("If it feels this good getting used/You just keep using me/Until you use me up"), while "Nowhere" introduces us to the manager of a remote convenience store who wishes for bigger, better and finer things in life. "Glass Jar" is a confused plea for self-growth: "Your view is from a glass jar/All's clear but you don't see how little you are.../We're stuck inside." On the title track, Lindsay uses a Peter Pan metaphor to take flight from the mundane.

There is romance here, too, and nowhere does Lindsay express it so well as she does on "Pale Reflection." The soft, bittersweet song describes a man whose happy memories of his late wife are sparked by the scent of dish soap -- "So he took a hand of the bubbles he would have placed upon her head/And turned down the lights and danced alone that night instead." Love is, of course, more awkward at its inception, and "Stumble" gives a light-hearted voice to the confusion that walks hand in hand with a sudden new attraction. "Turn Me Away," on the other hand, teeters on the edge of a painful breakup, while "Last Resort" takes a healthier, more emphatic course ("You're in violation of the pact we made in my brain/To occasionally buck up and pretend that you're sane") to the sound of light lounge jazz.

Bassist Jesse Williams leads the way with a strolling beat as Lindsay deconstructs her man with cynical detachment in "Out of Me" ("The way you sit in your chair/The way you think that you seem/The way you order your drink tonight now darling/You annoy the shit out of me"). The final song, "Drifted," combines the themes of freedom ("I've always charted the course less traveled and I've never docked in the bay") with unavoidable romance ("I realize my captain has failed me and I've drifted much too close").

This is good stuff, addictive even, and it reveals the bright star of a new talent on the horizon. With a debut album this strong, I can only imagine how Lindsay's music will evolve by the next one. I'll be waiting eagerly to hear the results.

by Tom Knapp
7 January 2006

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