Anne Weiss,
Concrete World & The Lover's Dream
(Potter Street, 2008)

I put this CD on the player with a heavy sense of duty, in the full, unhappy expectation that it would be yet another drearily self-absorbed, inner-gazing singer-songwriter effort. I quickly learned otherwise. Anne Weiss, who works out of Seattle, is a whole lot more like Bonnie Raitt than Joni Mitchell or any of her abundant, narcissistically sensitive progeny.

Like Raitt, Weiss counts r&b, rock, country blues and the folk revival among her defining influences. Unlike Raitt, Weiss has not had to face the commercial pressures to sanitize her sound, and thus Concrete World & The Lover's Dream will hold your -- or anyway holds my -- attention more than any Raitt disc I've heard in a while. For one thing, while this is definitely a band record, acoustic, not electric, guitar is the foundational instrument. The result is a surprisingly original, captivating approach that will grab you at the first cut, John Twist's "I Ain't Got No Reason to Lie to You," a knockout.

At least to the extent that my imperfect memory informs me, Weiss's musical vision is not quite like anybody else's. Her pipes are deep ones, but she employs them intelligently, resisting perhaps understandable temptations to turn them to various forms of excess. There is not a note oversung here; there is, on the other hand, plenty of restraint, nuance and vocal artistry.

Though a gifted songwriter, Weiss is not so focused on her own compositions that she neglects other people's work, which she exhumes tastefully. Few artists have the imagination, knowledge or guts to put songs by Mississippi Fred McDowell, Marvin Gaye and Jackson Browne on a single disc. Her cover of Browne's "These Days" -- which I will always associate with the 1970 Tom Rush version -- is done in a fashion so inventive that on first hearing I almost didn't recognize it. "Write Me a Few of Your Lines" is an impressive extrapolation from the classic McDowell original, likewise "Come on in My Kitchen" from Robert Johnson's.

Also in common with Raitt, Weiss has a keen social conscience, and her music addresses social ills like war and poverty, albeit too adroitly to come across as mere sermonizing. Even the protest material, in other words, works first as music and as finely crafted lyric. Not just the same old same old, Concrete World thrills with unexpected delights.

review by
Jerome Clark

28 March 2009

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