Lynne Hanson April 2022 Artist of the Month


Ice Cream in November




Okay, just let me say how much I adore Lynne Hanson. She has been called “Canada’s Queen of Americana,” though her self-assessment is that she’s “too tough for folk and too blues-influenced for country.” Hanson is as likely to wail on her Gretsch as warble to her acoustic. Small wonder she’s an independent artist, though I’m pretty sure that’s as much her choice as that of the music industry.


Hanson has just dropped–as in today–her 9th solo album, the wonderfully named Ice Cream in November and, no, it’s not a sweet metaphor or a flight into nostalgia. To make certain she didn’t fall into the trap of repeating herself, Hanson worked with Blair Michael Hogan, who cowrote nine of the album’s dozen songs, joined her as a sideman, and helped her veer in different directions. The title track is sonically adventurous and requires a singer with Hanson’s power and timing to carry the song and keep us in a melancholic mood. She sings that she’s as lonely as ice cream in November because too many look away and cast their gaze at, Beauty queens/That no one remembers/Dancing across the screen/A plastic dream machine/Screaming look at me. In her own subtle way, Hanson puts the hurt on the shallow attachments of a squeaky wheel culture.


Hanson tries on lots of hats on this record. The surf guitar treatment on “Shadowland” makes it deliciously retro in that too-bluesy-for-country way she noted. And she sure wasn’t aiming for Nashville-style wholesomeness with lyrics such as, My daddy was a preacher/I didn’t know him all that well/One hand on the Bible/Both feet bound for hell/Truth, lie, no surprise/You can’t unring that bell/Tell me all your dirty secrets/I promise I wont tell. It’s also one of several times she turns back the clock ever so slightly. Listen to “100 Mile Wind,” in which she mixes dollops of Western music, outlaw balladry, and a giddyup structure to blend past imagery (Bonnie and Clyde) with the dust and drugs of modern-day Oklahoma. (Yeah, another person who understands the U.S. better than its native-born.)


If you’re looking for Hanson’s Canadian roots, she has two that take her observations back home. “Le Bon Moment” is sung in French and is another song that implores us not to look away. At one point she evokes Romeo and Juliette, reminds us it’s a tragedy, and in the next breath pleads, me n’oublie pas (don’t forget me). If I had to pick my favorite song on Ice Cream in November, though, it would be “Hip Like Cohen,” which is simultaneously is hip, but is also laced with tongue-in-cheek self-deprecating humor. Musically it hops, bops, and features smart (and smart ass) writing like, Sipping sidecars while posing/Lining up to be seen/Proud to be postmodern/Without really knowing what that means. It’s simply an infectious song that’s cool when she sings it with a band or sits on a stool and belts it out unplugged.


Every track on this album sparkles and Hanson certainly succeeded in breaking her own mold, even though I’ve never found anything particularly repetitive about her music. Like Mary Chapin Carpenter, her deeper tones resonate perfectly with her mature outlook on life, intuitive sense of how to shape a song, and the wisdom to know when to ramp up the power and when to let herself drift with well-considered melodies and solid beats. This is a polished, gutsy, and substantive release.


Rob Weir



Discover Milton Avery at the Wadsworth




Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

Hartford, Connecticut

Through June 5, 2022.

[Click on works for larger viewing size]


The acknowledged greats of art generally deserve their exalted reputations. Yet, most people who like art have a fondness for someone who is ranked a notch or two below on the esteem scale. Milton Avery has long been on my list of underappreciated painters. The Wadsworth show in Hartford organized by London’s Royal Academy of Arts might put him on your list as well. Funny that London took the lead on this show, given that Avery (1885-1965) was on the New York/Connecticut shuttle for most of his life and the Wadsworth owns several of his best works.


Avery was an important American Modernist who is sometimes called the “American Matisse.” Like Matisse, Avery took to a Modernist style that emphasized color, line, shape, and form over symbolism, allegory, and representationalism. That is, that’s where he ended up. Like a lot of painters, he began more conventionally. As we see at the Wadsworth, his earliest works dabbled in landscape. T’is a wise person who pivots when realizing the mundanity of such works. 


Avery vs. Hartley




His father was an artist and Avery married one himself, Sally Michel, with whom he raised a daughter named March. Avery wasn’t very good at portraiture either, unless it was caricature, such as his deprecatory self-portrait. (He actually did have protruding ears, though!) Note the hints of work from his friend Marsden Hartley in his self-portrait. Avery’s blockier style was an offshoot of cubism, as were many Hartley’s. Avery’s self-portrait even hints of Hartley’s homoeroticism, though he wasn’t gay and Hartley was. (I often wonder why few critics have picked up on David Hockney’s debt to Hartley and Avery.)    



His daughter March was one of Avery’s favorite models. He painted her with a Picasso-like mask when she was young and in different moods and settings throughout her life. She got a long neck, not her father’s ears! 




Avery was often playful. Blue trees to represent a New England autumn? An aerial view of beachside homes that look like pianos crossed with staples a spit of land? Why not? Who doesn’t need an abstracted lizard to grace a still life of flowers? 




One of the things I really like about Avery is that he’s one of those people who reminds you of a lot of other painters yet once he hit his stride, he managed to be entirely himself. He befriended Mark Rothko and even did a few three-color panel canvases like Rothko when they painted together. Can you paint just three color blocks and make it look different? He managed.




He also flitted through a phase in which he painted with acidic colors reminiscent of the German expressionist Ernst Kirchner mixed with a splash of Lucian Freud. But other projects hint of fauvism and surrealism, which he admired, or the troubled thoughts of Edvard Munch. (By most accounts, Avery was not a tormented soul.) He went to Coney Island and captured its surrealistic energy in ways analogous to Reginald Marsh, but with a different take.



Avery (top) vs. Marsh




Ultimately, though, Avery’s greatest success came via addition by subtraction evocative of Matisse. By this I mean he began to simplify. He painted in ways that told a story in as few lines and shapes as possible without journeying into chaotic distortion. Check out this beach scene that reduces sunbathers to pyramid-like rocks. Those red slashes in the water are a swimmer knifing through the water. 




Much of Avery’s work is calming because he gives just enough information to invite you to fill in details without giving away what he intended or telling the viewer what to think.  And often it’s not supposed to be anything other than people wiling away the time. He didn’t even need to bother with any sort of Art 101 perspective. Who knows? Maybe he wasn’t much better with perspective than he was at landscapes or portraits, but I think he knew exactly what he was doing. Matisse also dispensed with illusional 3-D perspective. Who says you need it to convey emotion or infer anything other than what’s on the canvas? 




Milton Avery–an American original. Even when he reminds you of others.


Rob Weir


A Slow Fire Burning: Hawkins Scores Again



By Paula Hawkins

Riverhead Books, 307 pages.

★★★★ ½ 




Several bodies, a passel of damaged people, houseboats on a canal, and a gifted writer spinning a yarn. What could better? Not much. There’s a reason why so many novices want their works to be compared to those of Paula Hawkins. A Slow Fire Burning takes us to South London. Most visitors seldom stray beyond its usual tourist sites such as the London Eye, the Tate Modern, and Tower Bridge as much of the rest is residential and some are among the most crime-ridden of London’s fringes.


The one described by Hawkins surely is. The story pivots around several people who either live on canal boats or spend a lot of time there and in nearby neighborhoods.  It is loaded with people associated Daniel Sutherland, a murder victim. Is it a coincidence that Daniel’s mother died just a few weeks before him?  Are several other deaths from less than natural causes?


Miriam Lewis finds Daniel’s body and swings into action of trying to sleuth out his killer. She is not, however, any sort of Sherlock Holmes. Miriam was traumatized in her teens when she and a friend did something fatally stupid. Miriam is now an overweight busybody who is so friendless that she has few social interactions other than occasional customer who enters the adjacent floating bookstore where she works part-time. That’s fine by her, as she’s even more fixated on a book she wrote titled The One Who Got Away. Based on a tip, Miriam thinks that Theo Myerson stole her ideas. Insofar as detectives are concerned, there’s a lot about Miriam that makes her a suspect.


Theo certainly has demons to battle. He is a divorcee whose son Ben died before he was four. He blames Ben’s Aunt Angela, Daniel’s mother, for his son’s death. One witness recalls that Theo made Angela cry, which was the second-to-last time she was seen. Maybe Theo killed both of them. Then again, Theo’s ex-wife Carla is also wiggy, might have been sleeping with Daniel, and has her own theories about why Ben died.


Other dodgy people float through the plot. There is Laura, who Miriam thinks had sex with Daniel. Laura is unstable, hears voices, despises her mother-in-law, and has a limp courtesy of being hit while cycling by the man who became her deceased mother’s second husband. She’s such a psychological mess that her mantra is “it’s not my fault” to all situations, even when it is indeed her bad. Plus, she found Angela’s body and has Daniel’s watch. This makes her a person of interest, though she insists Miriam offed Daniel. Is it happenstance that Laura helps 80-year-old Irene, a widow who also happens to have been Angela’s friend?


If murder is, as so often reported, the product of damaged minds, who do you want to finger? Things become even messier when there are confessions that the police doubt and arrests that don’t stick. Hawkins thickens her plot even more via the use of a book-within-a-book technique and you can probably guess the identity of the other book. The mystery centers on clues from that book, plus a missing dog, the dog’s leash, a door key, a St. Christopher medal, a man in a wheelchair, and the assumption that all old people are just in a holding pattern waiting to die and know nothing about technology. There are also attempts at framing both innocent and guilty people, plus numerous other incorrect assumptions and one that turns out to be true with a twist added.


As you can infer from the above complex web, A Slow Fire Burning is an intricate story that places attention demands upon the reader. There is no Mis Marple or Hercule Poirot to explain the clues; you need to do the mental work yourself. It’s that rare work that’s a page-turning murder mystery that is more than just mindless escape. If anything, the book might be more complicated than it needed to be, but kudos to Hawkins for not resorting to any sort of happy ever after ending. Even after murders are resolved there are still folks in serious need of therapy. Just like real life.


Rob Weir