By Daniel Garrett
Amy LaVere, Anchors & Anvils
Produced by Jim Dickinson
Archer Records, 2007
Amy LaVere, Died of Love
Recorded and Mixed by Kevin Houston
Mastered by Alan Douches
Executive Producer: Ward Archer
Archer Records, 2009
“Killing Him” is one of those rare songs that seem perfect upon first listening and forever after. As described by Amy LaVere’s girlish, country voice, supported by a sultry bass, the story-song’s couple argue until the woman’s maddened violence and subsequent incarceration. Amy LaVere’s voice is quite pleasant (I wonder how it will age?) in David Schnaufer’s “Tennessee Valentine,” a country ballad with dance steps; and there is a bit of tango in her interpretation of Carla Thomas’s “That Beat,” featuring Bob Furgo’s gypsy violin and Paul Taylor’s percussion, and LaVere’s voice is given to spontaneous, thoughtful inflections, but the strong initial impression made by “Killing Him” remains.
What are the acts that begin, nurture, sabotage, and end a life? Paul Taylor’s “Pointless Drinking” is a drinking song that critiques drinking, drawing focus to the contradictions and disappointments that could cause weeping but are here merely sobering, the kind of song selection that suggests significant intelligence in a singer, in Amy LaVere. Amy LaVere’s voice has a unique vocal quality; it is compact and conversational, and it is a formidable instrument for delivering songs about female constraint and domestic labor, such as Kristi Witt’s “Washing Machine.” The domestic drudgery in “Overcome,” written by LaVere, in which a woman finds it difficult to leave (“songbirds need homes and live oak trees”) is not a new subject but it is a timeless one.
About the conflict between perspectives and motives, about the conflict among people, Paul Taylor’s “People Get Mad,” with its fast rhythm, possibly funk, is about more than manners and moods; it is about conformity. Freedoms are disapproved of, the song observes.
Disappointment in love is inspiration, and an arrow is returned for a song in LaVere’s “Cupid’s Arrow”; and Kristi Witt’s “Time is a Train” is metaphorical and moody too. With songs such as those, Amy LaVere’s album Anchors & Anvils seems to expand under examination. LaVere’s interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Remember You” is intimate—the nice thing is that it sounds as if it could be one of the songs that she herself wrote. That, and much else here, makes Amy LaVere a very interesting writer and singer.
Amy LaVere’s Died of Love, her short-playing album that is a successor to the longer Anchors & Anvils, has an orientation to rock music rather than country music, and, obviously, continues a theme of love and death. Amy LaVere is helped on Died of Love by drummer Paul Taylor and guitarist Steve Selvidge. LaVere’s voice is wailing in the traditional song “Railroad Boy (Died of Love),” and her voice is more than a match for the music. In Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan’s “Green Grass,” with a mournful, metaphysical theme, featuring lyrics about spiritual disbursements, Amy LaVere’s voice can be both narrative and expressionistic. “If Love Was A Train” (by Michelle Shocked) has a rumbling rock rhythm. Another traditional song featuring a sheriff and the devil and a shooting, “Lazarus,” is arranged and sung by LaVere’s collaborator Steve Selvidge, and becomes a fusion of rock, rhythm-and-blues, and gospel. Kristi Witt’s “Washing Machine” is given a heavy rock sound, completing Amy LaVere’s move in a new direction.
Daniel Garrett, born in Louisiana and a longtime resident of New York, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, was an intern at Africa Report, poetry editor for the male feminist Changing Men, founded the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at ABC No Rio and Poets House, wrote about painter Henry Tanner for Art & Antiques, organized the first interdepartmental environmental justice meeting at Audubon, wrote about fiction and poetry for World Literature Today and international film for Offscreen, and has done music reviews that constitute a history of popular music for The Compulsive Reader. He has been working on a fiction project, A Stranger on Earth. Daniel Garrett’s web log at Blogger.com, focused on culture and society, is called “City and Country, Boy and Man.” His e-mail address is D.Garrett.Writer@gmail.com