Arcata Eye Scene

A-town art, music, theatre. Mostly music. Updated Wednesdays.

Jennifer Savage: CDs reviews – Lila Nelson, the Absynth Quintet

Sometimes we love a song because it transports us somewhere we want to be.  Sometimes music appeals to us because it reflects our own experiences, articulates an aspect of life or love that we recognize, albeit in a more poetic way. Which brings us to Lila Nelson’s new CD, Letter Home.

Now, everybody loves Lila. If you’ve ever seen her live,  you’ve no doubt witnessed that phenomena that happens when she’s on stage and everyone simultaneously crushes on her for the course of the show. (Except for that one guy with the laptop that she mocked relentlessly. Not him.)

But to be enthralled in someone’s presence is one thing – to judge the music all alone without benefit of stage chops or wine or a surrounding of friends, that’s something else entirely. We all bring different appetites to the proverbial table. Had your heart broken lately? Currently in love? Grow up in the 1980s? The 1960s? Travel much?

With Letter Home, no matter from where you arrived, you will find something to nourish you.

In typical Lila fashion – think of High Gloss, Low Sheen’s “Dirty Magazines” or Still Got the Farm’ s “Spelling Bee” – mixed in with the quiet devastation of tracks such as “Rattle My Attic” (“It was somewhere between /A love affair/And a heart attack”) comes a particularly driving spark. On this album, it’s in the form of “American Miracle,” a track noting the trend of musicians utilizing tradional songs to score Americana stardom. The protagonist suffers from both poor timing and bad rhyming, then realizes “the good old American song was public domain/So she changed her last name/and she got on a plane/and she found her roots in bluegrass.” Sure enough, the move pays off – for her – “All the spirituals/All the traditionals/I’m making good money/I’m making a killing/And no royalties to pay.”

With help from a supporting cast (Freddy Koella, Kenny Edwards, Don Heffington and Stewart Cole), Lila once again transcends the singer-songwriter genre the way Mary Cassatt became more than just another dabbler in oils. Some people credit this to Lila’s symphonious voice, some to her skilled guitar and harmonica playing.

They’re right – but it’s the lyrics infusing the music that demonstrate Lila’s greatest skill: the ability to live passionately in the world, while at the same time incisively observing it, then transforming those experiences and observations into something the rest of us can hold in our hands and our hearts.

Finally, a nod of appreciation to designer Kristen Gould for encasing Letter Home in such fitting artistic fashion.

A CD release party takes place Friday, Sept. 19 at 8 p.m. in the Arcata Playhouse in the Old Creamery Building. Watch or for further details. (You can also enjoy Lila’s radio personalities every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KHUM 104.3 FM.)

The AQ’s ‘Indigo Shoes’

Just when I was all depressed about the ending of summer, The Absynth Quintet offered up Indigo Shoes, their brand new album which includes five tracks with vocals! Yay!
“Gadjo Train,” the album’s first proper track, has evolved into a full-fledged story courtesy of banjo player Ian Davidson. (An earlier version is available on The KHUM Blend, Vol. 2) If you’ve ever wondered what a “Gadjo Train” is, well, it’s apparently the bluegrass version of “Hotel California.” As in, “You can ride the Gadjo Train and you can ride it home again/La La La La/but if you ride the Gadjo Train/you might not come home again.”

Instrumentals “Let’s Just Cuddle Tonight” and “Little Blue Bike” showcase both the band’s sideways sense of humor and ridiculous amount of talent. They’re the kind of songs that make a listener wonder if the guys ever sit around and discuss how damn talented they are.

(Cue daydream sequence…
Ryan Roberts: “Have you guys noticed lately how extraordinarily skilled I am on guitar?” Bird Jowaisis: “Why, yes. Good thing, too, so you can match my virtuoso mandolin playing. By the way, I have a fantastic smile, don’t you think?” Tofu Mike: “That’s because my mad drum skills push you into the realm of ecstasy.”
Ian looks over at Rudy Luera on upright bass and they just shake their heads in wonder at the greatness of the AQ.)

Then we get another treat in Bird’s “The Reverend Sam,” a song that wouldn’t sound out of place covered by The Devil Makes Three – the inclusion of lyrics illustrates a darkness we don’t typically associate with the sunshiney Absynth guys. The tension heightens with “DCA” – try to dance to the merciless syncopation of that track without looking crazed, I dare you – before Ryan’s sea chantey “Dorado’s Chest.”

The title track comes courtesy of Bird and begins, “We were peakin’ in the back seat of his hatchback, at an indigo pair of shoes.” Now, maybe the homonym threw them off and they meant “peeking” at some indigo shoes… no, no, I don’t think they did, given the hallucinatory nature of the song. Don’t try this one at home, kids.

Despite the goofy title, “LMNOP” comes off as a relatively straightforward seduction number. It’s a perfect song to use when transitioning from, “That was certainly a lovely dinner” to “Take me now, lover!” (Except that would be a ridiculous thing to say, so you’d best let the music do the talking.)

It’s happily ever after from there, with added hidden tracks, a gimmick that’s so well, gimmicky, but hey, when you’re served what the Absynth Quintet is offering, you shouldn’t complain. Besides, the verbal exchange at the very end so well illustrates the sense of brotherhood and devotion recording an album engenders within the band.

Props to Matt O’Brien (10.29 designs) for such pretty artwork.

Further, KHUM 104.3 FM Music Director and Midday Show host Mike Dronkers says of Indigo Shoes, “It’s so good.”

An Indigo Shoes release celebration takes place Friday, Sept. 5 at the Jambalaya, 915 H St.
Further details about the band are available at or

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