Rose Polenzani,
Anybody
(Daemon Records, 1999)

Rose Polenzani is the living proof that making a demo tape can sometimes open up a whole lot of new career possibilities. Polenzani's demo unexpectedly got into the hands of the Indigo Girls' Amy Ray, who was so captivated by what she heard that she decided to get in touch with Polenzani. And Rose Polenzani proved to be even luckier, as Amy Ray also signed her to Ray's own company, Daemon Records, and helped her choose the songs for this record, which is a compilation of earlier home and studio recordings.

Sparse is the word here; usually, it's just Polenzani and her acoustic guitar. Only three songs are slightly more produced. Andrew Bird plays a resolute violin on two tracks, and there's a wonderful mandolin by Geoff Benge and the subtle harmonies by the Indigo Girls on the very lovely "Or" -- although "lovely" is not normally the word that comes to mind when listening to Anybody.

Polenzani seems to wear a folkie hide, but underneath you can feel the wild alternative rocker, who also pays a quiet homage to punk's liberating effects. So it doesn't come as a surprise that Polenzani plans her next album with a more powerful instrumentation behind her.

On this CD, Polenzani's sound bears similarities to that of Ani DiFranco or (a female) Dan Bern. Her vocals are not part of the crystal clear-sounding folk tradition, she's more in the lineage of expressive singers, at times quavering and almost whining. Now, of course, we were never attracted to Bob Dylan because of his subtle singing, but because he's such a fine man with words -- and similar things can be written about Polenzani. Her lyrics are very close to poetry. I'm pretty sure that ten people could read her lyrics and all would come up with different opinions on what certain of her songs are about. So I was glad that the bio sheet told me that "Molly's Lily" is "an epic tale of family debt, poison meadows, and the devil," because I very probably would not have found out otherwise!

The subject of "Parhelion," on the other hand, is more obvious to me -- the song deals with gender issues and sexuality, two recurring topics on this album. But more often than not Polenzani's lyrics are more mysterious and wear a tragic veil. There's a dark attraction to these lyrics. Again and again I'm drawn back to these tales, giving myself in to the words and suddenly seeing a new light of understanding, or so I think.

Neither the music or the lyrics of Rose Polenzani can be accessed easily -- this is a CD you really have to sit down with and give at least a few thorough listenings. I think Polenzani belongs to those artists that you either enormously like or deeply dislike. It was rather a hard go to start with, but she won me over in the end.

Given that the next CD will include a fuller sound, I'm pretty sure you'll hear more from this woman. So you might as well go ahead and give Anybody a try ... and be the first person on the block to discover her.

[ by Michael Gasser ]



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