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Album Review

Gas Station Roses

Here's how easy it is to miss great music these days. I did not know I was on Natalia Zukerman's mailing list until one day not long ago I received a CD of Gas Station Roses in the mail. I knew Natalia only through Winterbloom, the quartet which features herself, Antje Duvekot, Meg Hutchinson and Anne Heaton. They have gotten together the past couple of Christmases to musically celebrate the season with fans and friends and I gave them a positive mention here and there. I am an unabashed Antje Duvekot fan and, truth be told, I probably would not have even noticed their album (Traditions Rearranged) but for her. It is a pleasant Christmas album and I am always on the lookout for seasonal music, especially updated like theirs is, but it is very folk-based and while very good, not too far outside the box. So let me tell you that Gas Station Roses is not at all what I expected. There is nothing on this album which even vaguely resembles the music from Winterbloom. Instead of straight ahead acoustic folk, Zukerman delves into blues, jazz and rock and, man, first time through, I was just short of shocked! Second time through I was intrigued. Third time through I was impressed. Now I'm stunned.

I'm stunned because Zukerman takes us so far outside the folk box in places and does it so dramatically and with such ease. I'm stunned because Gas Station Roses, a gutsy bluesy force of a song, anchors the album and anchors it perfectly. The last thing I expected to hear is what I have come to know as southern blues, especially the sultry side, but that's what she gives us. It is outstanding, especially the slide guitar (amped just enough to barely mimic blues harp in places). Nor did I expect the very War-like beginning of Indiana, a downer in blues and jazz, if you will. The harmonica by Ray Bonneville is a mix of Lee Oskar and Larry Adler and is alone worth hearing, but everything about the song reeks heat and humidity and men in sweaty undershirts screaming “Stella!”. It is a mood killer if you're up and a mood changer if you're down. It is Four-Cornered Room with more blues and less R&B. It is Natalia Zukerman showing depth I never dreamed she had. And it goes to show you how little I know Natalia Zukerman.

She doesn't abandon her folk roots completely. They show through here and there and dominate on a few songs, but even they are a bit outside the box. Sorry Side of Town would not be but for the excellent production and the superb guitar work of, and I am assuming, Meghan Toohey (The Weepies) or Zukerman herself. Same goes for Always. Both beautiful songs made more beautiful by production and Toohey (and the simple but haunting background harmonies, sparse as they are).

It occurs to me as I write this that one thing I really like about this album is the jazzy undertone. Even at the folkiest of moments it seems to seep through. It gives a cohesion to the entire project. It gets under your skin if you notice it and maybe does even if you don't. I listen to music all the time (and I mean all the time) and have yet to figure a lot of it out. This is one of those mystery albums for me, the ones I could give a hundred reasons why I like but which really boils down to only one: I like it. In fact, I love this album. My days of ignoring Natalia Zukerman are over. I am now officially a fan.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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