by John M. Borack
Anny Celsi - Tangle Free World
This one's been out for a while, but due to a variety of reasons that I won't bore you with here, I didn't have the opportunity to properly make Tangle Free World's acquaintance until relatively recently. Had I been able to give it a proper listen sooner, however, it definitely would have earned a place in my 2009 year-end top 10. Produced for the most part by the ridiculously talented singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Nelson Bragg (from Brian Wilson's band), TFW is jam packed with tuneful, heartfelt gems that run the stylistic gamut from jangle-pop to lite soul with slight detours into folk and '60s girl group goodness.
The one constant that ties the package together is Anny Celsi's beautifully expressive voice, which is at once sweet and soulful, with a depth and richness that eludes many singers. Whether the tunes are brisk (such as the disc-opening title track, which is highlighted by a wonderful backing vocal arrangement courtesy of LA-area musician Adam Marsland) or downcast (the Stax love letter "Now You Can Hurt Me"), Celsi puts 'em across with equal verve and style.
Bragg's production is sympathetic, allowing Celsi's voice to take center stage among layers of instrumentation that include strings, horns, various keyboards, slide and pedal steel guitar, sitar and more. Bragg and Celsi employ a bit of Brian Wilson-esque lushness on one of their two co-writes here, the simply gorgeous "Own Sweet Time." While Bragg strums 12-string acoustic and electric guitars and lays down the backbeat, Probyn Gregory (another LA session cat) adds some sweet-sounding trumpet flourishes, fluid bass runs and a nice, George Harrison-inspired slide guitar bit at the song's closing. Toss in stately keyboards, a lovely string arrangement (all played by the late Amy Farris) and ever-so-sweet backing vocals by Celsi and Teresa Cowles and you have the perfect complement to Celsi's perfect lead vocal, which is equal parts innocence and sadness. The other Bragg/Celsi songwriting collaboration, the touching "First Love Freezes," might just be the best thing here, with its gentle, flowing melody supplanted by another 5-star Celsi vocal and cascading guitars and strings.
While Bragg duets with Celsi on a cover of Lee Hazlewood's '60s chestnut "Some Velvet Morning" and the rest of the tunes feature the aformentioned backing musicians and others of equal talent (including Scott Bennett and Nick Walusko from Brian Wilson's band, jack-of-all-musical-trades Robbie Rist, Evie Sands and Cloud Eleven's Rick Gallego), the true stars of the show are Anny Celsi's alluring voice and her straight-from-the-heart songs. Visit www.annycelsi.com for more info.
Laurie Biagini - A Far-Out Place
If you've ever wondered what the Beach Boys circa 1965 might sound like with a female lead vocalist (assuming you've never heard The Honeys) and piano-based arrangements, Canada's Laurie Biagini is here to clue you in on her new disc. A Far-Out Place features 14 sun, surf and sand-inspired tunes that harken back to a simpler time and place (witness the winning "Another Old Lazy Lyin' on the Beach Afternoon") or drag sunshine pop kicking and screaming into the new millennium (the "true dat" musings of "Crazy People on the Internet"). It's all pleasant enough stuff, although some of the songs go on a bit too long (and Biagini's voice can get a tad monochromatic after a while). Still, anyone who bucks the current musical trends and writes, performs and self-releases music such as this that obviously means a lot to her is to be commended. Personally, I'd love to hear what she could do with a full band in a real studio, with some more varied arrangements. A for effort, B- for execution. www.myspace.com/lauriebiaginimusic
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