Friday, April 6, 2007
WHEN NOVELIST George Pelecanos recommended Little Pink's 2001 release, "Cul-de-Sac Cowgirl," on his Web site, he noted singer-songwriter Mary Battiata's "strong pipes" and add ed, "Think Emmylou [Harris] or early Dolly [Parton] mixed with Richard and Linda Thompson." Now comes Little Pink's follow-up CD, "Gladly Would We Anchor," 15 songs that should keep listeners thinking -- of Lucinda Williams and Rosanne Cash, for starters -- but mostly of how Battiata, in her own quiet, subtle, insinuating way, earns such comparisons.
If the alt-country landscape weren't already littered with tales of the restless and forlorn, Battiata's job would be a lot easier. What makes her songs stand apart often has more to do with structure than with lyrics. Beginning with "Like a Wheel," an image reinforced throughout the album, refrains, melodies and rhythms keep folding back on themselves, creating dreamlike sequences that have a cumulative effect.
With the emphasis on resonating guitar tones, textured percussion and baritone saxophonist Chris Watling's noirish slant, the arrangements consistently heighten the moods and complement Battiata's haunting vocals. No, it's not hard to imagine Harris or Williams covering many of these songs, particularly "Extinction" and "Orange Moon," but it's not as if Battiata and her bandmates have any trouble casting their own spells, one after another. Of course, given a lineup that features a lot of Washington-bred talent, plus guest lap steel guitarist Ben Peeler and co-producer and multi-instrumentalist Philip Stevenson, that's not surprising.
-- Mike Joyce
Appearing Tuesday at Iota.