"Work Song," Cobalt Blue (Hungry Ghost Records)
The genesis of Cobalt Blue came on the small stage of Deep Deep Cool, a short-lived Washington Avenue club that attempted to appeal to a more underground crowd than its flashy neighbors. Proprietor Blake Brokaw put house bands onstage that wedded disparate sounds, or simply free-formed their ways through a night's performance.
Cobalt Blue, now regarded as one of the mellower "rock" bands in St. Louis, began with a decidedly electronic, uptempo bent. At that point, the group consisted of only Tim Redmond on machines and Rebecca Ryan on vocals. (The group was augmented by guitarist Sean Garcia, with the rhythm section in flux in recent months. On disc, Charles Shipman played bass and Doug McIntosh the drums.)
"What we were doing was completely electronic music," says Redmond of the early days. "She was just improvising over what I was laying down. As we started getting more into the songwriting process and getting into original compositions, we added more acoustic instruments and songwriting materials like electric guitar and piano. The songs on the disc reflect that. Some are those of a regular, five-piece band. Some are duets, with her and I. Others try to incorporate the digital and electronic aspects. And there's really good rock'n'roll stuff going on underneath. We've combined every element that we've touched on in the three years together and got a good mix on the album."
The 12 songs on the record do reflect a laid-back groove, for the most part, though some cuts ("big screen," "settle") up the energy quotient a little.
"Everyone put their signature on it," says Redmond, noting that the CD took a good year to piece together. "We kind of put it down and then put it in the hands of Perry (Emge) to see what would happen. We wanted to get it out sooner than we did. But we were patient enough to let it come. There was a lot of adding; we could've spent three years adding things to it, Sean's guitar work the most intricate of it. He always came up with new ideas, so many little things he's doing tracking-wise. It even amazed me to listen to it. The rhythm tracks, though, were laid down in a day's time."
"There were some huge gaps in time," Ryan says. "Perry helped us out completely in producing this. We worked around his schedule. It was great on the one hand, getting to go back and redo stuff we didn't like after a second listen. He was really patient with that. All sorts of things were going on with us during the recording. There were even some personal things; my dad died during the end of production. Mostly, though, it was Perry being in a studio that's a really busy place."
The time, though, was worthwhile to the band's singer. Adds Ryan, "I think we got to hone in on the details that we heard in our heads. It's nice to be able to play around with some of the ideas we've had all along."
Though the band hasn't played live much (most of the band's members have split time with other musical projects, as well as day jobs), with the release of the disc, they hope to turn that pattern around. Instead of being one of those "hidden talents" they hope to make a deeper imprint on the club scene in coming months.
"I tend to think that small venues do better with Cobalt," says Ryan. "It's such minimalist, understated stuff. It seems to lend itself to a more intimate setting."
And, now, that can mean your home, too. (TC)
"Lick of Sense," Suzanne Rhodenbaugh (Helicon Nine Editions, 2001)
For the sake of formality and sticklers out there, two things: number one, I am no expert on poetry like the man said, "I don't know a lot about art, but I knows what I likes," and number two, my opinions on this book might not be entirely discountable on that admission, because it won the 2000 Marianne Moore Poetry Prize, an open, nationwide competition. So there.
What I like about the poems in this slim volume is that if I read them out loud to myself, my present time and space fall away and I am wholly transported to, well, lots of places: hardscrabble, sunbleached Florida (not the cheery, sunburnt beach towns, but the interior of the state, where even the living plants look dead), or my mama's porch in Mississippi, listening to stories of generations of people long gone to whom I'm related, told by my grandmother, herself now gone, too. These are slices of sometimes-Southern life so true, and yet not so self-aware as the kind of earth-momma, sage-smudging verse that it's popular to read in coffeehouses these days.
Rhodenbaugh casts a critical yet loving eye on "her people," who seem formed from the very red clay that surrounds them, whose talk is "so drawn-out/you could play a checker game/between Uncle Ashley's 'Well' and his 'I guess so.'" Moved on (literally and figuratively) in her own life, away from the rural South to St. Louis, her eye is still drawn to the naturalistic, and she marvels at the incongruous joy of sighting a bird swooping about the rafters of her grocery store. "I walked direct to the manager a middling/bleached blonde woman in fuchsia knit,/a sort of living pomegranate /and said apologetically but straight out/'Do you know a bird lives in here?'/And she said 'yes' and smiled,/one or more birds do live in the store /impossible to catch but sometimes/fed by the stockboys. I was so glad/she did not deny a bird/lives in my grocery. Such an omen!"
And maybe it's just the bitter Gen Xer in me, but I laughed out loud at a line in the poem "At Quaker Meeting, The Spirit Dog," which described a group of earnest baby boomers at a Friends meeting: "our assemblage/of lawyers, and administrators, and other purveyors/of a world we tried to love and question both /all goodwill, Volvos and beansprouts were waiting,/in silence, for The Spirit. It seemed nothing like The Spirit/would move in a city living room with hayrakes on the walls/for ornament, a room just beige to its core, though we were/sincere and earnest people, repudiating/knit toilet paper holders and vinyl covers over couches..."
The collection "Lick of Sense" is available at Left Bank Books. (AED)