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Album Review

LITTLE GREEN BLACKBIRD
The Summer I Stopped Whining

Kirsti Gholson made me wait three years for this album. I was thinking of making her wait three years for this review. I'm kidding, of course, but I can now breathe a sigh of relief. Over those three years (and a couple before, I think), I was forced to write about Gholson's 2000 self-titled release, which she has dubbed her 'demo' album for some reason, and was plain running out of things to say without repeating myself. That 'demo', by the way, was sufficiently good for me to follow anything and everything Gholson I could put my hands on and wrap my ears around. I have followed her through Baird Hersey and PRANA, one of those odd groupings of singers specializing in (and I quote from the web page), “Tibetan Buddhist multiphonic chant and Tuvan throat singing” (I can imagine a percentage of you running for the exits now, having not heard a single note--- you wusses). I dove in to an on-again, off-again quartet (and sometimes quintet) headed by a couple of musicians of immense stature in my world (Tom Mank & Sera Smolen) in which she shares vocal duties with Mank and fellow PRANA member and musician of stature in her own right, Julie Last. To be fair, I did not follow Gholson to Mankland. I found her there, and you cannot imagine my surprise and elation to see her name amongst the credits. There have been other projects, of course. She has guest-vocalized on more than a few albums, her voice a magnet to many musicians who need that 'special' sound.

I mainly know of her through her 'demo', though, which I found crawling through cdBaby's catalog in search of something new and exciting a handful of years ago. At first listen, it was another pop album, a young girl putting her music and her dreams on 'tape'. The more I listened, though, a sound began to emerge. Gholson has a unique way of writing and performing yet is close enough to the pop sound we all know and are used to. Track One, I Got the Message, immediately caught my ear and I was hooked. Subsequent hearings unveiled a string of class pop songs. Two ended up on my “best of” disc I carry around with me in my car--- Ways to Kiss the Ground, virtually a plea in music form and a perfect format for her voice, and Strange and Marvelous, a slow emotional ballad with anthemic chorus and harmonies a la Gholson, quite unlike anything I'd heard. Indeed, Gholson neither sings nor writes outside of that sound. It is that sound and her penchant for lyrics above the norm which made me a fan.

She still has it. The Summer I Stopped Whining still has that sound which steps left at just the right moment and then right at another. It reaches that depth of the 'demo' album and reaches even deeper. This is a more mature Gholson. In fact, this is Little Green Blackbird, the difference being that what you get on the 'demo' is Gholson and what you get here is Gholson and band. It makes a difference and the difference is more than the music. It is Gholson's voice, which is more at ease and as a result puts you more at your ease. It is Gholson's music, which has obviously been hand-fed and pampered until ready. It is Gholson's lyrics, which more than likely were worked and reworked ad infinitum (unless she is a lyrical genius, which might be the case). It may be even more, but that should give you a hint.

I would tell you what she sings about, but I'm not really sure. I've heard the songs so many times that as individual as they are, they change with mood. One, Dr. Lemmon, is a light-rocking spew of venom at animal research and in particular one animal researcher, something about which Gholson has issues. For Ally (Lost In the Maze) I believe to be a song written for a chimpanzee or other ape-like animal, taken from its world and lost in ours. I wish I could say The Ice Is Melting is about the environment, but it might be and might not. We Keep Going could be about a relationship lost or the human spirit or any number of things. All of the songs seem to morph with mood and time thanks to overwhelmingly apt use of lyrics. Gholson may be a lyricist, but she is also a poet. When I read her lyrics, I don't hear songs. I hear poetry.

One surprise is Before You Go, which begins a light rocker and dips quickly into jazz thanks to the deft touch of Kyle Esposito on guitar and trumpet of (if I read this correctly) journey blue Heaven. An anomaly, the song rides light riffs into jazzy dreamland.

I heard many of these songs long before this album was released. Gholson passed along a sneak preview with a note that she was going to rework most of the songs. They sounded album-ready to me and I could not believe that she needed to add or rework anything. I compared what she finished with with I had on the preview disc and what can I say? Each and every song she changed was the better for it. I mean, I'm glad I have the preview disc--- it carried me through the long drought--- but if I had to return the album as finished or the preview, I would return the preview. Gholson and Maguire knew and know what they are doing. One day, I'll learn.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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