JO GABRIEL – Fools and Orphans
Joe Gabriel‘s fourth album, Fools and Orphans, was released internationally in March of 2009, her sophomore release on Germany’s Kalinkaland Records. It got about as much attention locally as her last release, Island, did in 2005, which is virtually none. That’s a shame because dedicated artists like Gabriel tend to become frustrated with Madison, a big reason why so many talented people like her move on to other cities. Madison has become increasingly inbred, with what amounts to writers writing about their friends or entire publications become cliques; their web pages sorted out by a few extroverts just talking to each other and not communicating any message at large or advocating for any progression. Madison also lacks appropriate venues that function as listening rooms, Mother Fools and The Brink Lounge being notable exceptions. It’s a hard road then for interpretive, melodramatic artists such as Gabriel to flourish here.
Nonetheless, Gabriel occupies a singular niche and her music will appeal to fans of early Kate Bush, especially, and Tori Amos. Her compositions focus on the piano and vocals with sidekicks Linda Mackley (assorted percussion), Matt Turner (cello) and Mark Urness (upright and bowed bass) returning as her primary accompaniment. Stephanie Rearick also appears on trumpet on the first two tracks, which are exceptional. Here Gabriel sounds a lot like Bush, floating lyrical treasures over a complex, unconventional bed of piano, bowed bass and odd percussion.
Other standouts include “Firefly,” and “Cellophane” two tracks of self-searching that are captivating. “How the Devil Falls in Love” is the album’s centerpiece and provides some much-needed variation . The vocals are more clean and clearer here as they also are on “Of Love and Ether,” the latter featuring the singing of birds at Starkweather Creek, near Gabriel’s Madison home. Also adding contrast is the closer, “Heavy” featuring backup vocals by Jeff Ladd.
Fools and Orphans was recorded at Coney Island Studios here in Madison by Wendy Schneider. Gabriel released this version of the album in 2008 as an artist-only edition. Kalinkaland then remixed and remastered the album before releasing it in 2009. The Kalinkaland release is said to be sonically better, although the artist-only version is truer to Gabriel’s stylistic vision.
While Island had power, grace and shades of light to contrast Gabriel’s Goth moodiness, Fools and Orphans is stripped down, bare-to the-bones somberness, the primary difference being there are no drums on the latter, the rhythm provided purely by piano and voice. Island also sported more keys and more guitars, including some electric guitar. The result is an album that is challenging to listen to, to say the least. Attention will need to be focused to drill down into the layers of poetic expression to arrive at the kernel of emotion that underlies these songs. Gabriel gives it away a bit in the one-sheet accompanying the album, the basic concept being loss associated with her very special felines, of which there are many. This album, though inspired by a feline attachment, is not just about cats. Listeners will have to spend a little time with this undiscovered gem to draw their own conclusions. Let me assure you, the effort is well worth it.
Gabriel is currently working on another release, Hunting Down the Ceremony, an album of unreleased material as well as songs that have appeared on soundtracks, compilations and the like, that will be released later in 2010. After that, and before Madison’s indifference prompts her to return to New York, perhaps she could collaborate further with Rearick. That would be a very interesting proposition indeed and would meld two of Madison’s strongest creative forces.