New Paula Cole Album An Unsuccessful Effort


I like Paula Cole’s voice, but I’ve got no love for her latest record. It’s an independent, Kickstarter-funded project billed as a return to her Americana roots, but it really shows how far she’s strayed. Take the song “Manitoba.” Is something’s amiss when it sounds more like a West Hollywood studio than a Western Canadian province? Yes, there is.  Cole has a glorious voice that moves across octaves and scales with the ease of a supple ten-year-old ascending and descending a set of monkey bars. But therein lies the problem. Cole sings like the Grammy Award winning pop artist she has been for the past decade. We expect to be blown away by big voices in pop songs. What else is there in compositions that seldom get much more sophisticated than “Oooh, baby, baby, I love you?” By contrast, we listen to folk songs for their narratives, causes, gorgeous melodies, and revelatory emotions. Cole has a powerful voice that she rockets from earthy whispers to Streisand-like crescendos at the bat of an eyelash. Okay, but she wants us to hear the lyrics, she doesn’t articulate well, and any message that might have been there gets lost in a welter of vocal pyrotechnics. Put another way, folk music has produced glorious voices–Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, Kate Rusby, Karine Polwart–but there are not diva voices. If Cole’s intention is to turn back the clock a bit, she’d do well to remember that there’s a world of difference between staging a song and interpreting one. If you like big voices, Cole’s theatrics on Raven are impressive; but if you really care about the content, they won’t leave much of an impression.   --Rob Weir


Tone Deaf Liberalism

Why are so many liberals so damned tone deaf? The modern conservative movement consists mostly of gun-toting Neanderthal crazies and hate-mongers, the latest case in point being Professor Niall Ferguson, another reason why you should never send your kid to that overpriced, overrated den of egoism and mediocrity called Harvard. Nailhead Fergy recently said that Keynesian economics were bogus because Keynes was gay and never had children. (Keynes was a married bisexual; his wife had a miscarriage, which makes Ferguson both confused about sexual identity and cruel.) And Fergy isn’t even close to being the most pompous, loud-mouthed, fact-challenged idiot in the conservative movement. By all rights, liberals ought to be as common as pollen in spring. Instead, they’re as rare as truth on Fox News. Why? Because liberals are often as reckless with their good intentions as conservatives are with their greed. Two cases in point, both from Massachusetts:

The first involves the Boston Marathon bombing. In Cambridge—recently dubbed the best (and most liberal) place in the Commonwealth to live–there was a sucessful hue-and-cry to release Robel Phillipos on bail. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, he’s a 19-year-old UMass Dartmouth student arrested for lying and tampering with evidence. He and two others went to Dzokhar Tsarnaev’s room after the Marathon bombing and removed a backpack with emptied fireworks and a laptop. All three have admitted that when they saw images of the bombing suspects, they thought one of them was their friend, Dzokhar. That is to say, they were protecting a man accused of massacre.

Wait—it gets worse. Some good liberals in Cambridge are worried about Dzokhar himself. They think he fell under the Svengali-like spell of his deceased brother and just went along with the plot. Here’s the incredulous spiel coming from people’s mouths: Dzokhar is really a nice guy who loves video games, girls, and smoking pot. A couple of people—mostly in the Chechen community—even think both Tsarnaev brothers were framed! Dzokhar’s good buddy, Robel, is a “civic-minded” kid who worked several jobs, is a good son, and just got “confused” and “freaked out.” The charges against him are “refutable.”

Okay, I did things at 19 of which I am not proud. There is, however, a world of difference between being immature and having mass murder on your résumé. Or tampering with evidence related to mass murder. There’s also a difference between believing everyone deserves justice and being naïve, insensitive, and a sap. It is paranoia of the first order to see a conspiratorial frame-up of the Tsarnaevs. Framed people don’t steal cars, brag of their deeds, toss bombs at cops, or engage in shootouts on public streets. Sure it’s a shame that Dzokhar threw away his life but he did so, and if he ever leaves prison walls other than to go to his own grave, that would be an injustice. And if you take steps to assist such an inexcusable act in any way, shape or form, you deserve every day of the eight years Robel Phillipos faces. 

Spare me the confused college “boy” crap. We say that college students are adults. Those of us associated with colleges are bound by scores of privacy acts that prevent us from giving out information of these young “adults.” (Laws prevent me from even telling a student’s parents what his/her grades are.) The abolition of parietals is among the many ways in which colleges no longer act in loco parentis. The age of sexual consent is 16; legal contracts 18. We can’t call college students “adults” when it comes to cultural practices and student preferences, but wail that they are still impressionable children when they commit antisocial acts.

Let’s go the other side of the state for another example of dumb liberalism. Northampton—merely the 15th best place to live—had a series of fires in 2009, the second of which caused the death of a father and his developmentally disabled son. Arrested was (then) 23-year-old Anthony Baye, who admitted he set that fire and 19 others. The State Police may have botched the overall arson case, but they appear to have the goods on Baye for the fatal fire. Baye has subsequently secured a lawyer—his right, of course—who has systematically bombarded the public with protestations of his client’s innocence. That’s precisely what a lawyer should do in such a high-profile case. But that doesn’t mean we have to buy the line and don symbolic sackcloth and ashes to sympathize with Baye.He did, after all, confess to the crime, though that confession has been quashed.

Much as in the case of Dzokhar Tsarnaev, scarcely a day goes by in which we don’t hear some local remark on how “tragic” Baye’s life turned out to be. Believe it or not, there are actually a few people in Northampton that argue—you guessed it—that Baye was framed. Those folks are (mercifully) rare, and the Baye case isn't a replay of Ken Burns' "The Central Park Five." It is, however, a sad example of what I call Birkenstock Liberalism. Some from that group say Baye should not remain in prison because “he needs help.” We hear that his acts were a desperate cry for that help. (If you send the same message, arson, a dozen times and no one listens, shouldn’t you try a different tactic?) I’m willing to believe that Anthony Baye did not intend to kill anyone–maybe even that he has psychological demons stoked and stroked by fires. But all indications are that he knows right from wrong. If that’s the case, shouldn’t we replace the “tragic” label with another: murderer? One can hope that Baye gets some help, but if the evidence against him holds up, one cannot morally justify his actions. Being sympathetic should never be an exercise in excusing the inexcusable.

Why do so many liberals become animated about “rights,” but shrink from the word “responsibility?” Surely there has to be some middle ground between the sin-infused Protestant determinism of the Heartless Right and the “he’s a good kid and couldn’t have done this” naivety of Kumbaya liberals. The latter serve only as anecdotal fodder for the Heartless Right, relegates well-intentioned people to minority status, and elevates idiots such as Ferguson to the status of public intellectuals.

Step one in isolating the Right is for liberals to admit that sometimes people disappoint and go bad. If liberals want to rebuild American civic ideals, they must also be willing to call out those who undermine it—not just their political foes on the right, but also the rotten apples in their own barrels.


Annie and the Beekeepers My Bonneville

My Bonneville
Self Produced (annieandthebeekeepers.com)
* * * ½

Annie Lynch has an angelic voice often rendered in soft, whispery tones, but put her in the same category as singers such as Alison Krauss and Aoife O’Donovan who can also air it out when the song demands. The latest from Annie and the Beekeepers–a band name she adopted when she was a student at the Berklee School of Music–is a  ten-track production (funded by Kickstarter) of Lynch originals on an album she named for her first car! Lynch’s music is generally classified as “folk,” though as this album attests, that’s probably as much due to her delicate vocals as the instrumental treatment. The title track, for instance, feels like country pop grafted onto The Beatles’ “On My Way Back Home,” and “Wake Up Mama” is an eerie little dream sequence draped in some spooky bass, jangly surf guitar, banjo, and improvised slap percussion. Still, it’s Lynch’s gorgeous vocals that most people remember. Listen to a song such as “A Light at the End” and hear her voice in all its glories–clear, emotional, a hint of husk, and just the right amount of force–on one of those songs that sticks in your brain long after the last note and leaves you unsure if it’s one of the prettiest or saddest songs you’ve heard in ages. She can also leave you sashaying around the room, as in the waltz tempo “WrongDarling” where she sounds like Patsy Cline’s long lost younger sister. (Yeah, I know Patsy had sister, but you get the point!) Not every one of the songs on the homespun My Bonneville sounds album-ready, but I doubt you’ll tire of listening to Ms. Lynch sing. --Rob Weir

Check out her stripped down “In the Water