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Carla Bozulich, Red Headed Stranger (DiCristina Stair Builders)
Whether working with the sinisterly conventional Geraldine Fibbers, the caustically jolting Scarnella, or the gonzoid Ethyl Meatplow, Carla Bozulich possesses one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary American music. Heard fleetingly while surfing left of the dial or eavesdropping through a wall, her vocals consistently captivate ears and command attention. And like the larynxes of Lydia Lunch and Patsy Cline, her voice is distinctive enough to recognize anywhere, but compelling enough to make the hairs in your ears prickle in attention. She's been fortunate, too, to have had fellow musical travelers -- whether traditional or experimental -- that complement her talents. Maybe that's why her latest project is such a disappointment. A remake of Willie Nelson's ambitious 1975 concept album sounds like a great idea. Done Bozulich-style, with her like-minded guitarrorist / collaborator Nels Cline (and other jazz improvisers) in tow, this record could have been an intelligent and provocative recasting of a forgotten document of Americana that, in keeping with Bozulich's obsessions, addressed violence and sexual politics in an imagined West. While the lyrical themes are muddled (as in Nelson's original), the musical treatments are as bland as windswept sand. The Middle Eastern-influenced drone and chanting in the title song are appropriately eerie, and the harmonies achieved by Bozulich and special guest Nelson in "Can I Sleep in Your Arms" and "Hands on the Wheel" are certainly worth another listen. Unfortunately, they're the only outstanding elements on a record that's so regrettably forgettable.
Anthony C. Bleach