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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1651

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Blame Sally: Night of 1000 Stars
by George Graham

(Opus Music Ventures 32 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 6/10/2009)

All-female bands are still something of a novelty in music. The Dixie Chicks are certainly well-known, though they are supplemented by several guys on stage. There are the Indigo Girls, though as a folk duo, I don't know if they qualify as a "band." One has to go back to the Bangles to find a popular band of all women. This week, we have another excellent example, Blame Sally, whose new CD is called Night of 1000 Stars.

Blame Sally is a quartet from the San Francisco area who are distinctive in a number of ways. For one, the members did not get their start doing music seriously until well past the age when most young people start bands. Though most had musical backgrounds, or came from musical families, they also had non-musical careers and/or their own families before embarking on Blame Sally. One member has a teenage daughter and is a cancer survivor.

But though they may have gotten a late start, they are a very impressive foursome who make music that is not only sophisticated from a musical standpoint, they also bring a lot of their life experiences into their lyrics, and often have a lot to say about the state of the world. They had an anti-war video called If You tell a Lie that attracted lot of attention on Neil Young's "Living with War" website.

Night of 1000 Stars is their fourth release, and their first with wider distribution. Given the changed political environment, this CD is somewhat less political in orientation. But the songs do address topics ranging from the difficulty of soldiers in resuming their family lives, to mysticism, and ways of coping with what life deals you.

The members of Blame Sally, who all sing, are Pam Delgado, who mainly plays percussion, as well as some guitar, Renee Harcourt and Jeri Jones on guitars, basses and various string instruments, and Monica Pasqual, on the keyboards. Ms. Pasqual probably came closest to starting in a career in music -- she had extensive classical studies, and toyed with the idea of becoming a classical pianist, but instead became a political science major. She did not start singing until age 29.

Their new CD was produced by the Grammy-nominated and very eclectic San-Francisco-based producer Lee Townshend, who adds much to the recording, giving it a tasteful, coherent sound with a nice sonic sheen.

The CD opens with one of their songs addressing the state of the world. The title song Night of 1000 Stars is about the difficulties faced when soldiers return home to try to resume their family life, some having suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. The song was by Monica Pasqual. <<>>

Over You, a composition by Renee Harcourt, is a somewhat more conventional love song, though in this case, it's an illicit affair which the participants know shouldn't be happening. <<>>

Also by Ms. Harcourt is a song called Vera Chiesa based on the story of someone who lost a friend to cancer, moved to Italy and saw a psychic after whom the song was named. She predicted that the friend would be reincarnated as a small boy. Not exactly typical pop song material, but nicely done and another example of the distinctive quality of this quartet. <<>>

One of the songs by Pam Delgado is called Hurricane. It's an interesting mixture of rock, bluesy guitar, some banjo and accordion, with lyrics drawing a parallel between a love interest and how severe weather can take you by surprise despite one's best preparations. <<>>

Two songs on the CD came out of Renee Harcourt's bout with breast cancer. All Rise celebrates the support by her family and friends. <<>>

Pass the Buddha also came out Ms. Harcourt's cancer episode, though this one she describes as a little tongue in cheek, going on as it does about looking for whatever might help. <<>>

A bit more somber, but one of the CD's highlights is I'm Waiting by Ms. Pasqual. It was inspired by the collapse of the highway bridge in Minnesota, and a rough period she was going through, with her partner having been diagnosed with MS. <<>>

The CD ends with Wood, a Hammer and a Nail, which Ms. Pasqual wrote after the group became associated with their song about George W. Bush. She wanted to take a different direction, and after seeing a film about the humanitarian work of Jimmy Carter, wrote this song. <<>>

Night of 1000 Stars by the San-Francisco based quartet Blame Sally is a fine recording that I suppose could be loosely described a kind of folkie version of the Dixie Chicks. But Blame Sally are musically self-contained, and I think are more multi-faceted. Each of the members has an interesting life story before they came together to make music. In folkie fashion, their lyrics are subtle and yet articulate. Musically, the group are also sophisticated, with pleasing arrangements with a collection of interesting instrumentation, and nice vocal harmonies. Their songs are the kind that although very attractive on first listen, reveal a lot more both musically and lyrically with time.

Our grade for sound quality is an A-minus. The sound is clean, and the mix captures well the textures of the arrangements. But foolishly trying to compete in the CD loudness wars, the recording was cranked up and compressed, killing a lot of the dynamic range.

This seems to be a rather good time for the appearance of worthwhile folk-influenced groups. The new CD by Blame Sally, who have been around for a number of years now in the Bay area, is a stellar example.

(c) Copyright 2009 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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