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No Dismissive Labels (4/25/2003) Write to CD Shakedown
WaifsThe Waifs, Sink or Swim (Browntone/Galvanic 2002) - The Waifs are a three-piece acoustic combo from Australia. Sink or Swim is their third album, originally released as an indie project in 2000. It's tempting to call Sink or Swim "artsy folk," but that seems to be a dismissive label. Instead, let's call it damned good pop, honed by years of experience on the road and filled with delicious instrumentation.

WaifsThe Waifs consist of sisters Donna and Vikki Simpson, who were joined about ten years ago by guitarist Josh Cunningham. Since Sink or Swim, the combo has released a live EP and a new studio album, Up All Night (which is too much about life on the road, as opposed to the songs on Sink or Swim, which are about being 30-something and single).

Fans of the band claim they can hear the different personalities in the songs. [Donna is the blonde, Vikki is the brunette with the shorter hair.] I don't know enough about the three songswriters to pick out their idiosyncracies. But I know good acoustic pop when I hear it, on tracks like "Taken" and "Without You."

WaifsAnd I particularly enjoy the woman's lament, "The Hair Cut" (with its line "It's more than a haircut/I'm wearing on my head...I'm darker underneath, darker by far...Cause baby when you went away you broke my heart...So now when I make love I make love to myself...I got no disease so it's good for my health").

Also appearing on Sink or Swim are friends Dave MacDonald on drums, percussion, and banjo, Stewart Speed on electric and double bass, Matt Walker on lap steel, Jen Anderson on violin, Phil Moriarty on clarinet, Anita Quayle on cello, and Steven Teakle on accordion.

WaifsThe band has achieved its sound by enormous level of touring, sometimes for nine months a year. Comments Donna, "Fame ... is not attractive to me or us. Being on the stage playing the big crowds is an attractive thing. When we were in Canada and the States we were doing all this stuff and we were so busy touring, I didn't really think about it."

Adds Vikki, "We'd been touring the States for seven months, but we'd also been on the road for fourteen, with four weeks off in January. We had 19 gigs in 16 days, and that was just the last 16 days. Before that we rarely had a night off."

WaifsVikki continues. "This was ridiculous touring. We just said yes to probably a little too much towards the end. The funny thing about the Waifs, we also never put our hand up and say, 'Can you ease back on the shows?'"

Donna recalls a bad evening. "I was at the gig and I just couldn't do it. I wasn't sick. I was just fucked. I really was just absolutely rooted, if I can be so Australian! I said to the guys, 'I can't play tonight unless I just have to.' And I had to. I sat down, which is quite unusual to me 'cause I bounce around.

Waifs"I felt like crying. That was the feeling, it was just so heavy. It was at the stage where I was nearly in tears, just night after night after night. It was really full on. That's not what it's about, and I don't ever want to get to that. We want to have a life."

The Waifs are heading toward a much larger audience in the U.S., as they will be opening numerous dates for Bob Dylan in 2003.

The closest comparison to Sink or Swim is the glorious 0898 by the Beautiful South. Both feature gentle pop arrangements, with terrific voices and intelligent lyrics. Even better, the album has been trimmed to 11 songs, concluding with the charming title track. Unlike the overly long effort by The Nields, the Waifs hit it just right on Sink or Swim. Really a masterful and modest album.

Lisa GermanoLisa Germano, Lullaby for Liquid Pig (I Music-Artist Direct 2003) - I've been following Lisa Germano for ten years, going back to Happiness. I'd like to say I'm a fan, because I'm interested in her atmospheric vocals and confessional style.

Yet, it's hard to play her albums repeatedly. And so it is with Lullaby for Liquid Pig, which is well-made but doesn't have an emotional resonance.

In describing Lullaby for Liquid Pig, Lisa says, "It's all about these thoughts rushing through your head in the middle of the night, keeping you from sleep as you try to figure out why you're so alone. It explores behavior in relationships, one being with alcohol."

Lisa GermanoListening to Lullaby for Liquid Pig, it's hard to believe that Lisa was trained on piano and formerly served as violinist in John Mellencamp's band. Instead, we find the spiky aural landscape of "Pearls," which resembles the work of Laurie Anderson.

Yet the big difference is in the vocal delivery. Whereas Laurie has a clear delivery used to frame her poetry, Lisa has a more cloudy sound, such that you need to lean deeply into the record to absorb the lyrics.

Lullaby for Liquid Pig was co-produced by Joey Waronker and Jaime Candiloro. Guest artists include Neil Finn (from Crowded House), bass player Sebastian Steinberg (formerly with Soul Coughing), Wendy Melvoin (Prince), Johnny Marr (The Smiths), Joey Waronker (Beck) and Butch (former drummer for Eels).

Lisa was born in Mishawaka, Indiana, where both her parents were teachers and musicians. But, this lady is never going back to Kansas - she's L.A. through and through.

Lisa GermanoHeading into her fifth solo album, Lisa was working at Book Soup in Hollywood. Says the performer, "I had lost my record deal at 4AD, and I wasn't really interested in having another one. Instead, I was working part-time at a bookstore going through a lot of stuff, and I became very isolated. For two years all I did was work at Book Soup, then I'd go home and write and record these songs."

Lisa continues. "That's one reason why I work during the day at a bookstore. In a bookstore, there are always answers: this goes here, that one goes there. In music, the way I write, there are no answers; it's all about not knowing where you're going, or whether it'll be good when you get there. Since I don't know how to record properly, nothing stops me from trying anything."

Lisa knows that she goes down a treacherous path on tracks like "From a Shell." As she recalls, "I overheard these girls talking in the bathroom of a club after one of my sets. Of course, they didn't know I was in the stall next door. One of them asked, 'Jesus, are we supposed to slit out wrists or what?' It made me laugh. I don't find my music depressing - a little sad maybe. But even if the subject makes me sad, I try to make the music interesting - at least for my ears - no matter what the song is about."

Lisa GermanoAdds Lisa, "This would be a record about being too needy, isolated, and thirsty for help and how friends don't really want to stick around for the show."

The best track on Lullaby for Liquid Pig is "It's Party Time," in which Lisa finally finds a beat and a bittersweet melody to go along with her musings. Also listen for the swelling classical elements on "Candy," as Lisa swims through a darker undercurrent.

Lisa has a talented, moody, dark streak in her. If you're looking for atmosphere, almost heading toward goth, walk into Lullaby for Liquid Pig.

- Randy Krbechek © 2003

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