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I Can't Be New

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Album Review

Susan Werner's Koch debut, and her sixth outing overall, is a collection of self-penned tunes in the manner, spirit, and flavor that spending a late night working in an office on Tin Pan Alley might provide. There is a beautiful, smoky, jazzy feeling that reminds one simultaneously of Hoagy Carmichael's more laid-back moments, Jerome Kern's humor, and the deep nostalgic atmospherics of Tom Waits' early Tin Pan Alley-influenced material — without the barfly surrealism. That said, Werner's latest is a thoroughly modern recording. From the opening piano shimmers of the title track, which opens the disc, she comes out with it straightaway — "Coffee, ham and eggs/I can be your dinner" — and seemingly throws all notions of modern-day PC lyric acceptability to the wind, thank god. Werner's lyric sensibility keeps its wit and never gives up the dignity of her protagonist as she states in a matter of fact way that she can be all things but new. It's a beautiful line in the sand that listeners don't hear much anymore in American song. This isn't defiance; it's simply acceptance and a humorous but profound truth. All the best pop songs have them. This album is full of them.

On "Late for the Dance," a bowed bass and clarinet accompany her piano and vocal as she offers a tale of love's regret that is full of whimsy and pondering of what might have been. The full-fledged swing of "Seeing You Again" — complete with the effect of a scratchy 78-rpm record under the opening vocal for effect — erases time and space considerations and instead iterates the song as a finely crafted work that situates the listener in a place of ease and empathy. But these three cuts offer just a glimpse through the window of the completely contemporary setting of "I'm Not Sure," with its smoky, sultry flamenco-styled guitar, string quartet, solo cello, mandolin, and shadowy hand percussion negotiating the terrain between the blues, fado, and sultry bossa nova. Likewise, "No One Needs to Know," where Werner is accompanied only by her guitar and Eugene Friesen's cello, is a torch ballad whispered in the stillness of a love furtively begun and acceded to. In its secret lies its possibility. The finger-popping standup bass and jazzed-up "doo wee" choruses in "Philanthropy," with Dave Mattacks' hand percussion, invert the entire Tin Pan Alley instrumental dictum by stripping everything to the barest notion of song itself — and what a song. This 13-song set closes with that same 78 lisping in the background as Werner's voice comes across the void singing a husky, brazen love song that offers up her shortcomings as possibilities for gaining the other's devotion; yet they are always in the realm of "maybe if I did," not "if I do." She's accepting her protagonist for who she is, and it's enough for the truth of the song; whatever the desired other wants is immaterial. The piano may not quite assent to her vocal in its wistful shapes and dulcet tonal wishes, but the singer's merely nodding to it in the corner of an empty room, singing and playing into the night, out of that same office on Tin Pan Alley. The cycle is complete, the tunes have been written, and it's time to go home.

This is a brilliantly constructed, soulful, and cleverly tender effort by a songwriter and musician who is in such complete command of her gifts that it's almost scary. In a sense it's fair to say that listeners should forget everything they know of Susan Werner and encounter her now, in the fully present articulation of her considerable gifts.

Customer Reviews

WoW - Absolutely aMAZing!!! :)

This album is soooooo beautiful. Susan's lyrics are thought-provoking and wickedly clever, her melodies are rhythmic & catchy, and she compliments her stories with just the right instrumentation. I really highly recommend downloading the ENTIRE album. It's a beautiful collection of songs that absolutely deserves to be a part of your life! :)

LOVE this Album

I first encountered Susan Werner opening for Keb'Mo' when this cd was new. And it was a first date on 10/29/05 (not sure why iTunes notes release date Nov. '06 - hmmmm). He stole my heart, Susan stole his --- and although we both loved Keb' going in - we came out talking about Susan Werner. We bought this cd for $20 on the way out - our very first venture in joint ownership; it's been worth every penny. An original spirit, voice, talent --- this release is a great place to start getting to know Susan.

Will make you sit up and take notice

This album was my first introduction to Susan Werner... at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in 2005. It was the last day of the festival, the sun was beatng down UNBEARABLY hot, I was completely sunburned and hiding under a blanket trying to keep the oven-like rays from baking me even further, I was generally grumpy and ready to leave and not paying much attention to what was going on on the stage. And then Susan came on. OH MY. My, my, my. Within the first few chords she struck on the piano, I literally "sat up and took notice," throwing the blanket off me and staring at the stage. "Who IS this woman?" I thought. "I have GOT to get this CD!!" And so began my love affair with Susan's music. Definitely love-at-first-hear. If you like the "standards" (Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Cole Porter, etc), you'll love this album. I love the standards, but I can only listen to "I've Got You Under My Skin" so many times. BRAVA to Susan for being creative and writing her own tunes. Standards singers, take notice -- you've got a few more songs to add to your repoirtoire. (I should note that I play this CD a lot and whenever others are around they always ask, "Who's this? This is really great!" when this CD is on. So... it makes others "sit up and take notice" as well. :o)


Born: Manchester, IA

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Blessed with a great voice and great guitar and piano chops, the multi-talented Susan Werner put it all together and was on the cusp of success with ever-larger U.S., Canadian and European audiences. Her major-label debut, Last of the Good Straight Girls (1995), on Private Music, was being eaten up by adult alternative album radio stations around the U.S. But two years later, her record company was unceremoniously merged into Windham Hill, another subsidiary of BMG, in early 1997, sending her release...
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