by Jason Blalock
I'll be honest, I'm not the biggest fan of singer-songwriters. Nothing against them, I just tend to prefer a bit more production and variety. However, Lisa Brigantino doesn't need excessive production - her voice is a wall of sound all by itself. And as for variety, it's hard to find an album with more variety than I'll Waltz Before I Go.
Lisa Brigantino is a seasoned industry vet, with a career spanning more than 25 years. She's been in front of the mics, in the booth, and in the back office, and has done everything from composing for TV to doing rights clearance, not to mention being half of The Vickie & Nickie Show musical comedy duo, created, written and performed with her sister, Lori Brigantino. She even has a Masters in Music Comp and Theory from SUNY Fredonia.
Brigantino is a former original member of Lez Zeppelin, the world’s first all-girl Led Zeppelin tribute band and toured internationally with the band, tripling on bass, keys and mandolin.
With a resume like that, it's surprising that I'll Waltz Before I Go is only her third official album - and, to me, that makes it feel a bit more special. This is clearly a work that's been slowly condensing for years, distilling into an album whose weakest tracks would still be standouts on a lesser LP.
Brigantino's voice itself is something truly special. It combines the brightness and clarity of a precocious twenty-something, with all the range and control of a woman with decades of practice under her belt. It took less than a minute for the opening track, Watching The Ducks to absolutely wow me with her range, clarity, and expressiveness. Accompanied by a jangly classic rock rhythm guitar hook, she gets the album off to a rocking start.
If the entire album had proceeded along those lines it would have been impressive. However, this is a legitimate tour-de-force. Every single track seems to be in a different style, resulting in a laundry list of genres. At times she even mix-and-matches. Free Verse can't seem to decide if it wants to be country or some sort of 40s-esque crooner, so it just slides back and forth - to amazing effect.
Nearly every track is a standout, but the ones where she really goes out on a limb are among the most impressive. Cookies and Whiskey is a gypsy jazz piece, complete with accordion, that wouldn't be out of place in a period mobster movie. Or, a couple tracks later, she jumps into full-on 80s sultry rock/pop number with Nowhere At All, complete with light synth-organ work, lush vocal accompaniment, and an electric guitar line straight out of a Michael Jackson hit. The song was posthumously co-written with her late cousin, legendary bassist and producer Felix Pappalardi.
Lyrically, the album is all over the map as well, although it does generally land in a meditative or contemplative place. The emotional core of the entire album is the tear-jerker Esther, about a strange old woman who lived in Brigantino's home town. Everyone assumed she was crazy, but by the time Brigantino thought to wonder about Esther's story, it was already too late - so she can only pay tribute to Esther's mystery.
Brigantino generally keeps things light The song wrapping up the album is less a coda and more a theatrical wink-and-grin to the audience: a period-authentic rendition of the 1915 hit Five Foot Two, Eyes Of Blue - complete with tinny, hissy recording quality like an old wax cylinder. The track features the voice and ukulele playing of Brigantino’s grandmother taken from an old 1950s family reel-to-reel recording.
Because at that point, why the hell not?
This is a stunner of an album, from an accomplished talent who should be better-known. I'll Waltz Before I Go could make that happen.
Visit the artist's website at LisaBrigantino.com
Genre: Folk, Psychdelic Folk, Rock, Gypsy Jazz, Country, Broadway, and probably some others.
Favorite Tracks: "Watching the Ducks," "Monday Comes Too Soon," "Esther," "Cookies and Whiskey," "Nowhere at All."