Paula Frazer has a voice like an angel. All her publicity says so. Hmmm. Is this what angels sound like? There’s a bit of Judy Collins in it, maybe a smidgeon of Marina Belica…well, they sound like angels too, so I guess there’s something to it! But Paula Frazer, in this set of bedroom demos, sounds like an earthbound angel. She surrounds herself with simple rhythmic acoustic guitar and overdubs of that angelic voice, and creates a haunting, haunted sound.
A Place Where I Know is a collection of demos recorded on a tape deck at home. She confesses in the liner notes that it’s all low fidelity but she thinks these first versions of songs, which were later recorded by bands like Tarnation, have “a certain intimate quality that is different from how the songs turned out once the other musicians added their parts…[in] the recording studio.” This is not a bad thing.
Okay, the first time I listened to it, it grated on my nerves, and sometimes … especially when she emits those high-pitched long-held notes, my spine tingles. But there’s some really intriguing stuff going on here. Frazer’s main influence seems to be Ennio Morricone! Soundtracks to Italian westerns. Big landscapes, filled with intimate, subtle music. Twanging electric guitars, noodled electric keyboards, over top of the acoustics and the overdubbed harmonies encase the image-heavy lyrics in a spooky package. The last time I was haunted by this kind of music it was the Julee Cruise album written by Angelo Badalomenti that filled David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.
The song titles give samples of the messages they carry. “The Only One,” “Halfway to Madness,” “An Awful Shade of Blue.” This tune really has the “Man With No Name” feel! Look at the lyrics to “Idly”:
So uncertain I double as a shadow
or someone who doesn’t understand
Blatant or misshapen and far too weary
to pretend to understand
In my mind’s eye, I am love’s pauper
and I am going nowhere
but, I know there’s a little piece of heaven
a piece of heaven somewhere
Idly, idly, please come take my hand
somewhere I know there is a castle
a castle floating in the air
Idly I am taking my time
but, someday, I will be there.
Wow! It’s not that much fun having the voice of an angel … and not having access to heaven. Small wonder that the music is so ghostly.
This mood continues, through “Long Ago,” “The Hand,” “A Place Where I Know,” “Taken,” “Like a Ghost,” well, you get the idea. I’m not sure what the band members brought to these songs when they recorded them. Whether the mood changed and altered interpretation. But these are some heavy songs.
Also included on this enhanced CD are three videos of Frazer sitting in her house, a place where she knows, singing three bonus tracks. The camera doesn’t move, it’s focused on her, with her guitar in her lap, a microphone in front. She strums and sings. Minimalist magic. Maybe Paula Frazer isn’t for everyone, but these 4-track songs do hold a peculiar charm that’s well worth an hour of your time.
(Birdman Records, 2003)