[1 December 2009]
Always a busy lady, poet/punk/roots rocker/general firebrand Exene Cervenka’s year got a little more complicated when she announced back in June that she had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. She promised, however, that she would still deliver a record in Fall ‘09, and sure enough, Somewhere Gone, Cervenka’s first proper solo record since 1990’s Running Scared (though a few discography sites mention 1996’s Surface to Air Serpents and her spoken word record of selections from the Unabomber Manifesto). Unlike the bulk of her punky/rootsy band-related work—X, the Knitters, Auntie Christ, the Original Sinners—Cervenka’s solo work has been more folky and introspective, and Somewhere Else is certainly no exception, and couldn’t have flowed from anyone but Cervenka’s pen.
So no political diatribes here (and with the lone exception of the opening “Trojan Horse”, no allusions to her MS diagnosis… and then, only if you’re in the extrapolating mood). It’s just Exene and a few buddies—including guitarist/husband Jason Edge, Cindy Wasserman and, poignantly, the recently deceased violinist Amy Farris, for whom these recordings rank among her last—and her always-keen lyrics set to simple melodies. Checking in at a lean 34 minutes, Somewhere Gone is a spare, honest gem.
Cervenka’s unblinking assessment of love’s and life’s little moments covers both the happy and the bittersweet. Ever the poet, she perfectly summarizes (to these ears) the first blush of love on “Insane Thing” when she’s “walking around, tripping over your name” after doing “an exotic freefall into a glass of wine”, or successfully salvaging a night that doesn’t quite go as planned on the rollicking (for this record) “Walk Me Across the Night”. That said, Somewhere Gone, as evinced by its title, traffics more in relationships that have turned sour, or at the least, stale. From the fish-or-cut-bait non-questions of “Where Do We Go From Here” and “Why Is It So”, to the anguished actual question “Why does my everything sleep in someone else’s light” on the jazzy, piano-tinged “Fine Familiar”, and the pleas-for-a-civil-breakup “Honest Mistake” and “Go Away and Be Sweet”, Cervenka’s well-known ability to turn a sympathetic phrase in defense of an outcast serves her well on Somewhere Gone‘s bummed-out tales of love.
While it wasn’t intended as such, Somewhere Gone stands as a fitting, if bittersweet, tribute to the memory of the aforementioned Amy Farris, whose strings and voice color nearly half of Gone‘s 14 tracks. Like the loss of a loved one, Somewhere Gone inspires fond memories of the good times while acknowledging that the world is full of less-than-good times, too.