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,
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
"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.
for the whole story, images and her complete discography. (Photos courtesy alisonpipitone.com)
Contact Samuel L. Wereb at wereb-at-rockzilla.net