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Album Review

CATHY CARFAGNA
Rhymes With Lasagna

...which is an infantile way to start a review but Cathy Carfagna herself (no doubt faced with mispronunciations at every turn) uses it and, what the hell, it gets that out of the way quick enough. Hey, I know what you were thinking.

What I'm thinking is that half a minute into the title track of Carfagna's Turn Your Face to the Sun album is enough to convince anyone that she could take you on a carpet ride through sunshine pop and psychedelia and spit you out exhausted yet exhilarated. Slap a decent psych cartoon behind it and you would have a video classic on your hands, the melody and vocal harmony beautiful enough to inspire any video artist. Throw in the guitar licks, the just-light-enough organ and the uplifting feel and you have a solid winner in the psych/pop sweepstakes. There is something electric in what she does on the track that is hard not to love.

Of course, if you think Carfagna is on that sort of kick, you would be wrong. She bounces around genre on the album like a pinball, but in this case it is a good thing. She is no newcomer to the music scene having plied her trade with The Jazzabels, Voice of Cheez, Nimrod Wildfire & the Sagebrush Lotharios and the cajun/zydeco-rooted The French Ticklers (you gotta love it) before her present projects: The Outlyers, The Vores and The Jim Whitford Band. Oh, and I almost forgot--- her solo projects. That is a lot for anyone to have on their plate, but Carfagna can handle it. This album proves it.

When I popped this into the player, I had just laid down Laurie Biagini's surf/pop/girl group extravaganza A Far-Out Place and would not have minded an extension into pop/psych, so hearing track one was a rush. Carfagna put the skids to that hope quick enough with the midtempo, down home Going Down to Memphis, hardly psych and pop only in its use of melody. Credit the lazy-afternoon slide guitar and the bass with keeping my interest, something just short of old J.J. Cale in the feel, and Carfagna's ability to handle a tune. The bottom says blues but the rest says Carfagna. And as long as you're in Memphis, why not soul it up a bit. It's All Right If It Rains ain't Stax, but it doesn't try to be. What you get is a nice pop tune with the old Hammond organ and Percy Sledge-style brass for good measure. Nicely done.

From there, the bounce continues: The sparse sound of the rocker Trouble Comes To Call gives way to the wringing blues of Traverse City Blues (with a slight country touch) and then Carfagna rocks out again on Tumble Down. She grabs hold of Buck Quigley's classic-country-sounding If You Lose an Angel next, Quigley of Buffalo's The Steam Donkeys, and gives you a taste of a honky tonk slow dance before her acoustic slide intro into the R&B Empire State Queen.

You get the drift, right? The cool thing is that the genre of each song is only a gravy boat to get Carfagna's gravy to the table and if you dig in without preconceptions, it is mighty tasty gravy. I mean, usually when you think of a singer you think of a gimmick or power of the voice or something that reaches out and grabs your attention. Carfagna's style is refreshing in that she allows herself to be carried along by the song and the sound and does not dominate. Even on the very impressive Turn Your Face to the Sun, she makes sure everything is balanced. There is an awful lot of ego in music these days. Too much.

I have listened to this numerous times and am as impressed with the production as I am with the music. The recording has real depth without layering on extra tracks just to make a song sound full, something a lot of producers should pay more attention to.

I'm a hands-on kind of a guy, something left over from my young days as a vinyl junkie, so I have to give the packaging a big thumbs up. It is tasteful yet colorful and lays out the information I find crucial in short order--- mainly, who played what and when. As a writer, it comes in handy, but before I ever took up a pen, I had to know. It is good that some artists still understand.

When an artist has so much invested in so many projects I get curious, so I'm hardly done with Carfagna. This album makes me want to check out The Outlyers, which I will do after closing this review, and the others. It will be fun. And chances are good that I will find more music to enjoy. Damn good, I think.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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