BY STEVEN ROSEN
It’s highly recommended that you read the lyric sheet while listening to Boy, a solo album from Carla Bozulich, who has been releasing records under various names and with various bands and collaborators – Geraldine Fibbers is probably her best-known one – since the early 1980s.
As a songwriter, Bozulich has absorbed the influences of Symbolist poets, blues prophets, Beats and their avant-garde-minded contemporaries as well as Patti Smith, Nick Cave and Tom Waits. Her lyrics crackle with the eerie allure of a distant Mississippi Delta radio broadcast on a lonely night, but are sophisticated enough to be on the wall in the Museum of Modern Art. (She wrote, produced and mixed Boy with the aid of John Eichenseer; Andrea Belfi also helped with some of the writing.)
The results, on these ten songs that Bozulich considers “pop” because they all are reasonably short and (mostly) have a recognizable verse-chorus structure, fires the imagination as you read them:
Here’s one, from the song “Danceland,” with scary imagery and impressive internal rhyming structure:
“One time Michelle got lost in hell/
Her voice was on the machine: I’m on the stairs and all is well but try to find me please!/
She had a way of saying please like black plastic and skin/
Like a demon on her knees she could always win”
Yet her writing isn’t solely literary – one doubts Billy Collins would ever be reading something like “Deeper Than the Well, with a line like “I just want to fuck up the whole world,” at the Library of Congress.
Sometimes when you read a lyric sheet, it competes with actually listening to the album. But the pacing of Boy – it has a slowed-down introspection feel that suits Bozulich’s smoky and occasionally incantatory voice – works perfectly for this. You succumb to the grandeur of its intimacy, especially when Bozulich pauses from singing to chant or recite words.
Like Waits, Bozulich favors a sound that reimagines Howlin’ Wolf as performance art – she plays guitars and works the synth and most samples and loops while Eichenseer adds keyboards, viola (lovely on “Drowned to the Light”), percussion (rivetingly industrial on “One Hard Man”) and other droning electronics. But unlike Waits of late, she works hard to not let the songs become just moody soundscapes. She doesn’t always completely achieve this, but does so enough to make this a success.
There is also lightness to her vision – the wonderful “Gonna Stop Killing,” which has a dirge-like structure, begins with buzzing-bee-like electronic noise and has lyrics that actually make you smile from their cleverness and sweet intent as she dreams of alternatives to a violent life.
“Make better use of my hands/
Maybe start up a band/
Make a few friends/
Get a cheap van and take off “
There are times, when the album does get so dark or mournful, you might think of Jim Morrison or Diamanda Galas, although her sense of melody always keeps Boy connected to the “pop” she’s aiming for.
Other times, as when she sings what almost could pass as a country ballad (with grungy guitar chords) on “What Is It Baby?” you can almost hear the dusky, strong urgency of a Timi Yuro in her voice, punctuated by her Willie Nelson-like attempts to hit a gentle higher register to sing for emphasis. (She once covered his Red Headed Stranger album.)
Bozulich has so much going on in her career it’s hard to tell when she’ll do another solo recording. Indeed, it’s hard to believe this is officially just her third, according to her record label. More please.
DOWNLOAD: “Gonna Stop Killing,” “Danceland”