Melissa Ferrick’s name has pretty much become the definition of “strong female singer.” Everything in Ferrick’s music has an intensity about it. While that comes through on her recordings just fine, it’s when she takes the stage that her powerful voice — akin to Alanis Morissette or Ani DiFranco — and lyrics kick up a notch. Whether she’s singing about passionate lust or post-breakup heartache, her connection with the audience and her love of performing are palpable.
Ferrick’s new album, Goodbye Youth, is her ninth recording, and it’s released on her own label. The title track is a rousing, rocking number in which she assures us that the best is yet to come: “Goodbye youth goodbye lust / Welcome to the rest of your life / Hey girl, hello to the good stuff.” Her cover of Bush’s “Glycerine” works surprisingly well. The original is a brooding, passionate number but Ferrick imbues her version with a sense of serenity. It’s one of the few calm moments on the album. Ferrick has a reputation of relating intimately with her audiences, and a big part of that is because her lyrics reflect our own uncertainties and strengths so well. She also pumps us up when we need it; on “Hypocrite” she croons, “And I talk into the mirror sometimes / I say to myself, you’re gonna be fine.”
Goodbye Youth will be sold exclusively as a digital download and at her performances. “Indie retail is dead,” she says in her press release. Good thing live performances still have a loudly beating heart! Melissa Ferrick and Jill Sobule play at 8 pm Friday, Nov. 21, at Indigo District. 21+. $15 adv., $18 door. — Vanessa Salvia
Good Times and Great Newbies
The Essentials have made their name as a (large!) group of talented musicians who evoke the rich musical past of funk and soul. But while they may have weaned themselves on Otis and Aretha, these formally-trained musical masterminds don’t hesitate to apply their soulful sound to any song that tickles their fancy. The Essentials’ repertoire includes everything from timeless dance favorites like Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” to Joe Cocker’s groovy rock hit “Feelin’ Alright” to Britney Spears’ “… Baby One More Time,” as well as a growing number of originals. The band will introduce the newest of their self-penned tunes (the “penning” done in large part by saxophone player Gabe Dickinson) at the upcoming release party for their new EP, Something to Give, this Saturday.
Feeling good is what a horn-heavy, bass-thumping band like The Essentials is all about; Something to Give moves this concept beyond the dance floor and into the daily walk of life with songs that inspire as well as entertain. Lead vocalist Neil Thurston delivers lyrics with a distinctly oratory flavor, most notably on the track “Greed,” a lively-yet-cautionary song about American consumerism. Myeshia Cleveland’s sweet, soothing voice brings the love song “Crossroads” to life, and together Cleveland and Thurston take on anxious lust in the ballad “If You Run to Me.” With each track on Something to Give The Essentials prove themselves to be more than a killer wedding band (and they are a killer wedding band!). Nine men and one woman strong, they employ the tricks of the masters while staying fresh and looking forward, all the while allowing audiences to lose their inhibitions and say, in the words of James Brown, “I Feel Good.” The Essentials celebrate the release of Something to Give at 9 pm Saturday, Nov. 22, at John Henry’s. 21+. $10 includes entry and CD. — Adrienne van der Valk
Gothic Fairytale Chic
Imagine if a mezzo-soprano opera star got her own backing rock band, complete with string section and distortion pedals. That pretty much sums up Brooklyn’s My Brightest Diamond. Fronted by cultural maiden Shara Worden, MBD incorporates equal parts Tori Amos, Portishead and City of Lost Children. MBD’s sophomore release, A Thousand Shark’s Teeth, kicks off with “Inside a Boy,” a rare high-energy track emoting Worden’s “love, love, love” for a boy. On an album of mostly slumberous lullabies, the opening song is a blitzkrieg. “Apples” also drenches Worden’s matter-of-fact narrative lyrics with a peppy drumbeat and staccato vibraphones, with pleasing results.
MBD veers into Gypsy-cabaret territory on “Black and Costaud,” imagining the fictional Belgium character Le Schtroumpf Costaud in a boxing match. But Worden loses me with lyrics that seemingly wandered off the page of a sophomore creative writing student’s notebook: “Black and Costaud / Black and chic / Black, black, black / Jolly fellow, jolly fellow, black.” As the centerpiece of the album, it’s a misstep that Teeth doesn’t fully recover from until the final track, the Beth Gibbons-inspired “The Diamond.” But, as far as dark soap operas go, Teeth succeeds time and time again. My Brightest Diamond plays with Clare & the Reasons at 9 pm Friday, Nov. 21, at WOW Hall. $12 adv., $14 door. — Chuck Adams
Gajah’s Gift of Gab
The name Gajah may not be familiar to you yet, but if you listen to Acelayone, Abstract Rude or Freestyle Fellowship, it should be — and Blackalicious fans will dig Gajah for sure. A veteran of the Los Angeles Project Blowed open mic workshop, Gajah is a member of L.A. hip hop crew Acid Reign, a two-man tip that caught the attention of Alpha Pup Records (Daedelus, Busdriver) with 2003 self-released album Ready Yet? After a successful 2006 Alpha Pup release, Time & Change, Gajah struck out on his own and put out his first solo release, Hair Off My Chest. Jazzy, mid-tempo beats take a hint from innovators like Digable Planets and Chief Xcel (Blackalicious’ beatmaker extraordinaire), but it’s hard to say whether beats or rhymes are Gajah’s strong suit. He rhymes quick, but more importantly, he rhymes about the human condition with insight. Eugene will definitely feel this. Gajah performs with Graves at 9 pm Saturday, Nov. 22, at Diablo’s Downtown Lounge. 21+ show. $5.
— Sara Brickner
Scott Ordway is the latest star in a long line of promising musicians to emerge from the UO School of Music. His new Symphony #2: Crime in the House of Names is “the most complete synthesis of the two halves of my musical personality: a long time rock musician, and a classically trained composer.”
The Santa Cruz native co-directs the invaluable Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble and will be moving to Boston to become associate conductor of the Juventas! New Music Ensemble. His award winning music has been performed around the country and in Italy. Last week, he conducted Portland’s Classical Revolution in a spectacularly successful program of new music by seven composers (including three Oregonians, Ordway among them) accompanying Superman cartoons of the 1940s.
Ordway acknowledges that an orchestra can never play rock as well as a great band, but his 45 minute magnum opus, much of it composed in a two month stretch at an isolated California cabin, is much more integrated: “equal parts Mahler and Milemarker, Ravel and Cursive, John Adams and the Appleseed Cast, Strauss and Fugazi, Botch or Refused. And, hopefully, they all get so stirred up that one is inseparable from the others, blending to make something with completely different appeal than any of the original ingredients.” The Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble will perform Ordway’s Symphony #2, Quartet by Jamie Keesecker and Churn by Nathan Kroms Davis at 8 pm Tuesday, Nov. 25, at Beall Concert Hall, UO. Free. — Brett Campbell