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How much can one fan of OKOM (Our Kind Of Music) accomplish in just a couple of years? Plenty, if it's Rockzilla, aka photographer Michael Johnson. From 2003 to 2005, rockzilla.net was a chronicle of the alt.country scene from a uniquely Texan perspective. But all good things must end, and Rockzilla has retired from the online 'zine scene.

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Alison Pipitone
I'll Ask Her
Slice Records
by Samuel L. Wereb
 
     
 

Sometimes the thing you want wants you too. If you don't follow your muse, she might just decide to follow you.

Take Alison Pipitone, for example. She's been making waves in indie-rock circles for about five years now. But it wasn't always so. In fact, at one point she was so unsuccessful and frustrated that she had given up music entirely. Pipitone left the Los Angeles music scene in 1994 and went back to college in her hometown of Buffalo, N.Y. Merely fooling around at local open-mic nights, she managed to stomp a big impression onto their small music scene and quickly found herself in business for real, with a new recording contract later the same year.

Some 2,600 miles from the cutthroat musical cacophony of mid '90s Hollywood, she found it much easier to get noticed. She was never "The Next Alanis Morrisette," and had no interest in faking it. From the present vantage point, it's easy to see how clearly she now stands out from the crowd.

Alison Pipitone writes poetry that rocks. She's one part cover girl, two parts Springsteen, one part Liz Phair and a bucket-full of Kurt Cobain. Blended together with a whiskey-laced voice, she's a powerful concoction of lyric-driven, folky alternative rock with sharp, 100-proof melodies and scorching full-on performances.

I'll Ask Her is her fifth record and it is a significant departure from her previous work. This one is completely stripped down to just her vocals and acoustic guitar and it features contemplative, introspective songwriting for somewhat quieter moments. It's her Nebraska, and I'll Ask Her is meant to play on the rhyme. Even the cover photo of a bleak Buffalo streetscape harkens back to it.

Ironically, this is an artist who has those highly coveted right-now pop songstress looks, but she doesn't show the slightest glimpse of them on this CD. She seems to have set aside her outward looks and expressions and turned entirely inward. This is a very fine record, which may reach a wider audience than her previous Grrrl-rock recordings. There is some superb songwriting here.

Pipitone played more than 150 dates in 2002, and those who only know her live or by her previous releases may not immediately get this one. She is a complicated, enigmatic artist, and analyzing most of her lyrics is way above my pay grade. Still, like the best songwriters, when she wants to make imagery perfectly clear she makes it look easy. "1969 Cobalt Blue Camaro" is a good example. It immediately evokes some of the best Simon and Garfunkel ballads or Bruce Springsteen nostalgia.

I got my suntan, my hair comb, my pocket book
I hear you comin' up the road
I see you're honkin' and wavin'
And smilin' and I can't wait to go

So don't forget to drive
Your '69 cobalt blue Camaro
And pick me up tonight
I'll be standing outside amongst the shadows

This is the most distinctive song on the CD. It's a great melody and grooves along on one of the better voices in alternative rock music today. It's done in two-part harmony over just a couple acoustic guitar tracks and tweaked with a little EQ. Pipitone recorded and produced the entire record at home on her digital 8-track recorder.

Stripped down like this she sounds a little like Lucinda Williams, an artist she admires. Other times she's more playful and romantic, like Liz Phair sans the overt sexual content. She has a full, robust voice, and the whole record is done with about twice Lucinda's talent and maybe one-tenth of Phair's typical budget.

The rest of the album is romantic, complex, and a little melancholy, containing devotional love songs and nostalgic reminiscences of her childhood. "Bring It On" is a semi-autobiographical adolescent anthem told in another's voice. Springsteen used to do this stuff. Only he doesn't fuck with the listener's head like she does or Cobain did. "I Am Not Yours" is so ardent and searingly good it sounds like it was stolen from Cobain's estate. There are a lot of different styles in here and they all work. "Secret Lover" could have been one of those lost songs Steve Earle says he sold for dope. She's that good.

Pipitone is able to pull together all these styles so well because she can just flat sing. She won both "Best Female Vocalist" and "Best Original Vocalist" in the 1999 College Music Journal. Man, can she ever play a guitar, too.

Alison Pipitone is on her way to becoming a star. She sings with charm, vim, and vitriol; lightning in a bottle, basically. She's a top-flight songwriter with a wicked vocal left-hook and serious attitude.

"I'm on my own record label, now, and finally have a good band with me. We played everywhere from San Francisco to Buffalo this year, and we'll do it again next year. I don't give a damn about impressing A&R reps or Rolling Stone anymore. We're just gonna rock, and maybe we'll go a little further south next time."

Her earlier records are damned good, too. Don't pass them up if you like smart alternative rock, sung like Hell-on-wheels.

Visit www.alisonpipitone.com for the whole story, images and her complete discography. (Photos courtesy alisonpipitone.com)

Contact Samuel L. Wereb at wereb-at-rockzilla.net

 
     

 
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