Sway Music

A remarkable thing happened after Marion LoGuidice finished her set at Joe’s Pub in New York City recently and left with her band through that odd little dwarf-size partition they have behind the stage. Now, no way was the audience going to get an encore, as there was another set by another act to follow and these folks were about to get whisked out of Joe’s Pub with a broom. But there arose this strange sound, a kind of keening, whistling noise, that was both appreciative of the music that had just been played and devastated there was going to be no more. Imagine a roomful of connoisseurs savoring fine wine at the same time a crowd of kids is being told they will have to give their ice cream cones back. That’s kind of what it sounded like. It was an evocative and unusual sound, and it didn’t stop after the house lights came up. It didn’t stop until band members reappeared on the stage to collect their instruments, one giving the “cut” signal with a finger across his neck to indicate the music was over for the night.

LoGuidice’s sold-out concert (you pronounce it Low-JUDAS) was unusual as well. LoGuidice’s set was a freeform mix of styles that ranges from rather close to mainstream pop to something that swings out there far enough to elicit those appreciative whistles and grief-like keening. As I watched her swing back and forth in front of the microphone, using her body movement to sling her songs out into a highly-receptive crowd, I thought of a term to describe her style: sway music. It is hypnotic, beguiling, fey, incantatory stuff.


I’ve been beguiled by sway music before. My late friend Scott Appel, always a good tout of great music and with a whole record store of stuff to listen to and screen for you, told me about twenty years that I ought to be listening to a new record by Kate Bush called “Hounds of Love.” Kate Bush? I said. Isn’t she that pinup English singer whose pop-pap records’ best features were the cover photos?


I was right that Kate Bush always looked good on her album covers, but wrong in the rest of my estimation. Her best stuff was wonderfully out there, Cathy singing to Heathcliff and songs suddenly overwhelmed by marching bands, songs sung in an English that only generally resembles the one most people speak and depicting fey worlds and situations the result of some strange kind of spell-making that’s literally breathtaking. You are afraid that your least breath might cause it to dissolve. Hounds of Love has its own Juliet-of-the-Spirits logic, and Bush sustains it wonderfully through the whole of the record.


Marion LoGuidice is a lot more grounded in the real world than the cultified Ms. Bush is, but like her she uses unusual songforms and situations from her own mythology. So to hear her sing a duet with her friend Sheri Miller in which Marion is Christ and Miller Mary Magdalene, and adding in the fact that her name rhymes with Judas, doesn’t seem at all out of the ordinary. (I joked to both of them later that Mary Magdalene hasn’t had a hit since “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” so it may be time for her to hit big again!)


LoGuidice’s backstory is pretty unusual, too. She has come to songwriting and performing later on, after marriage and childbirth, and quickly created not a cult, but a dedicated following that regularly sells out Joe’s Pub when the NYC-based performer plays there. Her 2005 indie CD, Mother Wheel (www.marionsmusic.com) has sold briskly and another one is due this year. Most of the songs done at Joe’s Pub that night are from her forthcoming CD. Ones that I made note of include “Laurie,” “Summer Turns to Fall,” and “Please.”


Her songs can be quite accessible pop that suddenly take left turns into something more adventurous, musical woods where you’re not quite sure if what’s coming is magical or Grimm-dark. LoGuidice is also not afraid to break out of her comfort zone and sing in her not-most-pretty voice.


Mother Wheel is a very fine record, adventurous, urgent and passionately delivered by LoGuidice and guitarists Larry Saltzman and Ira Siegel, bassist Tony Conniff,  keyboardist Chris Palmiero and vocalists Catherine Russell, Tabitha Fair and Diane Garisto. Tunes like “Please,” “Mother Wheel” and “Mountains” announce a formidable talent excavated from the quotidian burdens of daily life.


But I keep coming back to her audience that night at Joe’s Pub. Many of them were women with young children in tow. That made me think that part of LoGuidice’s appeal is an appreciation by people in the same position, of the tremendous effort it sometimes takes to bring an artistic talent out. I’m thinking now of the late Tillie Olsen, whose decades-long “silences” between books were often talked about in literary circles. In her obituary, it turned out those silences were not due to dissolution, mental illness or artsy woolgathering, but to the all-consuming demands on her time from her status as a working-class wife and mother.


Another reason for Marion LoGuidice’s appeal also has to do with our own hidden potential. Perhaps all those women with their children were thinking, look what Marion found when she went looking for her talent. Sure was worth the journey. I wonder what there might be inside me to be discovered?


That’s a question I sometimes ask about myself. And I urge my readers to think about it too!


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