Christina Rubino – (A)Live From the Scrapheap

Bandcamp is flippin’ magic. It’s become my rabbit warren of the internet the same way that Wikipedia used to be. Such adventures spawn all kinds of nuggets worth mentioning. Christina Rubino here is one of those.

She’s channeling a bygone era of floksy singer-songwriters, complete with bitchin’ harmonica. The whole singer-songwriter thing isn’t just a weird redundancy, by the way. During the sixties, and into the seventies, it was pretty uncommon for singers to write their own songs. Most songs were written by professionals. Elvis never wrote a single line or note, and almost nobody at the time would have expected him to. Musical artists haven’t always been young, earnest, angry or angsty youths expressing themselves. They used to be interpreters. I’m hardwired to appreciate the current, more personal setup, but vestiges of the old system remain. In any case, that’s why the songwriter appellation was added, to mark these folks out as a new breed, going against the grain of pop music.

Nowadays it generally describes a nostalgia soaked artist like Christina Rubino. (A)Live From the Srapheap starts out with a strongly melodic, fast paced barnstormer in The Gateway. The composition is strong. Each layer is positioned well within the aural landscape. Melody flows throughout and there is plenty of that aforementioned bitchin’ harmonica. Rubino’s voice immediately rises up to ride at the forefront of this tightly strummed wave. It’s both forceful and angelic. She is confident and hitting her stride.

The rest of the album ramps the energy down into well written, melodic ballads, sung either prettily or forcefully. The last song, Billy’s Song brings to bear a nearly explosive vocal performance that makes the four-and-a-quarter minute song feel closer to six, in a good way. After a few spins though one begins to wish for a little more grit. She has power to spare, and good, solid songwriting skills, but with few exceptions she keeps her voice in a comfortable place. There’s no passionate loss of control or hint of growl to grab us by the gizzard and engage us in the album again. Any individual song stands well on its own, but overall the album leaves things a little flat.

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