Something Old, Something New, Borrowed & Rebuilt, and Often Blue
Before Feist, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Chan Marshall, or any chicks who sing with Air, there was Anna Domino. A gifted singer-songwriter whose first EP East & West was released in 1984, Domino has collaborated with dudes like Luc Van Acker (Revolting Cocks), Matt Johnson (The The) and Stephin Merritt (The Magnetic Fields, The 6ths). A reviewer once described Anna’s voice as Nico meets Peggy Lee. Yeah, she’s that cool. In 1999, Anna and musical partner/guitarist Michel Delory released Songs From My Funeral, a collection of public domain murder ballads like “Streets of Laredo” and “Black Girl (In The Pines)” fused with a modern day soundscape of trip-hop, funk, rock and blues. Fast forward a dozen years to its follow up, My Halo at Half-Light (Fledg'ling Records), which follows the same idea with a brand new selection of very old songs.
“Little Maggie”, a Sitar-laden dance number ala Thievery Corporation, tells of a woman with a gun, wallowing away, drinking and getting down with all the wrong guys. It reminds me of the untimely loss of Amy Winehouse. “Staggerlee” is a Thug Wars story, 1895 style; Anna’s smoky voice delivers a smooth pop-lounge version of the legend of Stagger Lee, a black St. Louis, MO Democrat who shot and killed black Republican Billy Lyons in a bar--then went home to sleep if off. There’s also the romantic, folky “The Lady O,” a track complete with finger snapping and knife-playing, and “Omie Wise,” about a two-faced motherfucker who tells his pregnant girlfriend they’re off to get married, but kills her instead. “Omie Wise” starts out with a Zen vibe and segues into an excerpt from Nico’s “You Forget To Answer.” The lines recall Omie’s confused voice as she drowns, calling for her lover to save her—but he won’t. It’s a tragic tale, and it’s based on a true story.
Musicians from Nick Cave and PJ Harvey to Mark Lanegan and Rykarda Parasol have drawn inspiration from folk story-songs when writing their own music. I love that Snakefarm takes songs that most of us would have never heard of and combines them with new arrangements, transforming them into something thoughtful yet current that rocks. Hopefully the next installment of Snakefarm’s brilliant classics-made-modern will follow sooner than later.
Snakefarm photo by Judith Burrows
Review by Michael Levine