Almost Back to Normal
(Mermaid Alley Music)
August 4, 2016
Reviewed by John Hoglund for Cabaret Scenes
Carol Lipnik is an anomaly; a welcome departure from the norm. There’s a reason she’s become one of the most talked about singers in decades. She’s impossible to pigeon hole, yet, it’s difficult not to make comparisons. She has been consistently receiving raves from critics and audiences alike for her appearances at Joe’s Pub and, more recently, in her extended run at Pangea in the East Village. The reasons are quite obvious to anyone listening to her haunting, new-age sounding CD, Almost Back to Normal on Mermaid Alley Music. At times, she recalls a vocal conjunction as varied as lilting Celtic soprano Enya, English song stylist Julia Fordham and the German dramatic coloratura Diana Damrau in her vocal elegance and technique which is as formidable as it is warm. She weaves quite a spell here. But it is her crystalline voice that caresses the poetic savvy of her musicianship and the force of her bonhomie that truly sets her apart from every female singer on the club scene today. No one is doing what she does. Her moody charisma sparkles like a canary diamond in the perfect setting. The lady is unique and highly skilled at casting subtle spells through her songs of mystic and obsessive messages on personal journeys and universal topics. Mostly, she is a fierce conduit of fantasy. It takes a lot of talent and intelligence to pull this off with simple grace. Lipnik accomplishes this with ease and no frills.
The album kicks off with a trance-like reading of “Oh, the Tyranny”: “… you’re so high you never can be claimed…oh, the tyranny…this is my destiny/steals my heart away.” The coloratura passages are as hypnotic as her impassioned vocals. “Honey Pot” is a lively Joan Baez-sounding folk song about getting stoned. On “The Oyster and the Sand” she casts a visionary, deceivingly sad ode about the sea and sand and things that penetrates the soul: “You are the oyster/I am the sand/You formed me into a pearl/Now that’s who I am…No, I don’t mean to hurt you…Just cover me in your coats of iridescent splendor/And let me live within your phantom/Forever and ever and ever and ever and ever.” Achingly beautiful words and music, this may be the album’s finest cut. That’s saying a lot on an album filled with such beauty and substance. Mostly, it’s her voice and subdued piano with occasional soft strings for ambiance. Harry Nilsson’s “Life Line” is lonely in its message of despair: “Down to the bottom/Hello?/Is there anybody else here?… Won’t you throw me down a lifeline?/I’m so afraid of darkness.”
The disc is mainly her own delicate poetry set to music by this wonder of song. (All cuts are written by Lipnik except for two.) The topics of her poems and songs vary from the desolate and lonely to the metaphorically resonant. Raw emotions are embraced with heartfelt longing on this CD that is sure to make waves.
Jacob Lawson, who plays violin on some cuts and provides background vocals, also serves as producer. Matt Kanalos movingly plays an 1895 Steinway concert grand.