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Helen Money

Helen Money

(Cellobird Records; US: 13 Feb 2007; UK: Available as import)

Alison Chesley runs her cello through some pedals, amplifies it, and turns out instrumental rock. If it sounds gimmicky, it’s not. Chesley, recording as Helen Money for the album of the same title, manages to get hard and dirty on her instrument (and, occasionally on guitar) without leaving her classic training or her rock influences. She’s recorded with Bob Mould, cites Jimi Hendrix as an influence, and has strains of classical minimalism in her compositions. Helen Money works if you like all of these sounds, or, really, even if you don’t. Chesley maintains her aesthetic throughout the disc while varying her pieces—some tracks are more aggresive or dark (opener “Dreaming”) while others run toward light beauty (her cover of Neil Young’s “Birds”) while some run the spectrum (“I’ll See You in Hell”). Her tribute “Hendrix” nears acid-rock experimentalism while slyly nodding to cuts like “Foxy Lady” and “Purple Haze”. This flexibility serves Chesley well, but if her album were merely about style or technique, it would wear out its welcome; instead, she’s crafted pieces that remain rewarding. You quickly forget this is a cello-as-rock thing and start hearing it as what it is. The disc shows knowledge of songcraft, the love of an array of genres (I’ve yet to mention post-rock), and an intense performance approach with a wide palette, all melded into a unified piece.

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Justin Cober-Lake lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife, kids, and dog. His writing has appeared in a number of places, including Stylus, Paste, Chord, and Trouser Press. His work made its first appearance on CD with the release of Todd Goodman's first symphony, Fields of Crimson. He's recently co-founded the literary fly-fishing journal Rise Forms.


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