Written by SHAUN SMITH Saturday, December 01, 2012 10:11 am
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Regina Spektor is the best female singer-songwriter of my generation and there is no better proof than her latest collection "What We Saw From the Cheap Seats."
Spektor and her piano do all of the heavy lifting here. She uses classical, jazz and rock elements in her compositions in addition to emotional pounding on the keys.
I jumped on the Spektor bandwagon after catching a televised performance of "On the Radio" from 2006's "Begin to Hope." The song has one of my favorite lyrics of all time: "You take things you like/and try to love the things you took." After that I listened to "Soviet Kitch," on which she gives Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald a shout out on the opening track, "Ode to Divorce." It's more than just talent and literary references that makes me enjoy Spektor.
Spektor's musical process is spontaneous - there are lots of jumps and kicks, asides are not uncommon and a single composition will sometimes seem like a mash-up of two other songs.
However, that is only one type of song written and recorded by Regina Spektor. Her albums never line up neatly and go where you expect them to go. Each expresses a different personality than the last. There are songs about love, loss, and also existential interpretations on her latest creative vision.
Besides having a beautiful voice that complements her skills as a pianist, she is very unique and creative songwriter.
Spektor was quoted in a 2009 interview with Rolling Stone magazine saying, "It doesn't feel natural for me to write some diary type song. I want to write a classic like “Yesterday” but weird songs about meatballs in refrigerators come into my head - I can't help it."
I think she gets as close to a classic as she ever has on the closing track, "Jessica."
Spektor's inventive songwriting is employed from the start on opening track "Small Town Moon," but my favorite lyrics on the album come from the futuristic "All the Rowboats."
"All the rowboats
In the paintings
They keep trying to row away
And the captains’ worried faces
Stay contorted and staring at the waves
They’ll keep hanging
In their gold frames
Forever and a day."
- "All the Rowboats"
The studio release is 11 tracks but the deluxe edition includes three bonus tracks. Two of those are sung in the native tongue of Soviet lyricist Bulat Okudzhava. Spektor grew up in Russia before moving to New York City as a teenager with her family.
The other bonus track is a duet that may rival one of my favorite recordings "You Don't Know Me" on Ben Folds' album "Way to Normal." Spektor recorded "Call Them Brothers" with her husband Jack Dishel from the band Only Son. The duo recently toured together and also released a video for a track that can be seen on YouTube.
Her voice is an incredible instrument and she not only has a broad range but Spektor does a beatbox on "Oh Marcello."
Her quirkiness is accentuated through her warmer notes on heartbreakingly beautiful songs like "Firewood" and "How."
"The piano is not firewood yetThey try to remember but still they forget
That the heart beats in threes
Just like a waltz
And nothing can stop you from dancing."
On "How," Spektor puts on a soulful moniker that proves how far she has developed as an artist over the course of the past decade.
Spektor returns to "Don't Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)," a tune originally released as a stripped down version on her 2002 album "Songs." Soaked with island drums the track is by far the most upbeat on the album and Spektor released a very interesting video to accompany it. Listening to it after the decade-old version is most exemplary of her musical development as an artist.
As a fan of Regina Spektor, I couldn't be happier with her latest release and new listeners should be able to find something to appreciate on her latest album. If you don't like one song, just skip to the next track.
Spektor isn't playing anywhere close but you can see her performance on NPR Music.
Like Regina Spektor? Tell me about it @DBCurrent on Twitter #TheHighNote.