Nina Nastasia's new album demonstrates an intelligent, Southern-fried side of New York's burgeoning music scene.
Nina Nastasia is living in New York City amid a rock renaissance. Meanwhile, her second album, The Blackened Air, is rich with Southern melancholy. Ask her about this apparent contradiction, and she'll deny noticing either. And you'll believe her.
"I haven't really paid attention to the music scene outside of my friends," she says. "I don't read a lot of magazines."
Normally, I'd treat this sort of statement with a former New Yorker's skepticism--after all, with Steve Albini as producer, a deal with Touch & Go and mounting buzz, Nastasia hardly qualifies as a musical outsider. But when you're talking to Nastasia, skepticism is politely asked to step outside to make room for sincerity, the same honesty that makes her music work. Contrivance and artifice are completely absent, despite lyrics that dwell on such staples as love, loss and, the crux of existence, male-female interaction.
The Blackened Air drips with evocative imagery and haunting instrumentation. While her first album, Dogs, was compared to Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, her sophomore follow-up is more like Flannery O'Connor learning guitar from Leonard Cohen at the Chelsea Hotel. On the dark and somber album, Nastasia radiates romantic succulence in a voice part hominy, part open flame.
There's painstaking attention to detail, from the saw played to emulate canine whimpers on opener "Run, All You..." to liquid string arrangements on "Ugly Face" and "This Is What It Is." Underneath the strings and echoing drums lie simple country-guitar arpeggios that keep a running conversation with the listener.
Nastasia is honest and insightful in a time when it pays to be trite and full of platitudes. But she insists she's "more excited than nervous" about the prospects for disaster on her first tour that she and her boyfriend have planned. "I've been pretty spoiled in New York." Nastasia says, "The crowds have been really attentive." James Buonantuono
Nina Nastasia plays Monday, June 17, at Dante's, 1 SW 3rd Ave., 226-6630. With Carissa's Wierd and Boxstep. 8 pm. $8 advance.
Putumayo + Mercy Corps = LUV
The world-music label and world aid organization team up in the name of peace, sound and understanding.
If Sept. 11 was a bad day all around, consider the plight of Putumayo Records. The small, New York-based world-music label released a children's CD called World Playground 2 that Tuesday, featuring music from around the world chosen specifically for its tot appeal. Suddenly, the already-challenging task of fostering intercultural awareness among kids looked a lot harder.
Meanwhile, in Portland, the international relief organization Mercy Corps was looking to lend a hand in New York. Mercy Corps runs food, medical and developmental relief projects in Asia, Latin America, Africa and Eastern Europe. With trouble looming closer to home, however, the nonprofit decided to render less tangible assistance to kids affected by the East Coast terrorist attacks.
"We went to New York to see what we could contribute," says Mercy Corps' Griffin Jack. "The fact that we were already trying to serve minority, refugee and immigrant populations made it a natural for us to try to help kids understand the crisis."
And so the New York label and the Portland charity came together. Putumayo shipped 13,000 copies of the compilation to Mercy Corps at a bargain-basement price. The aid organization packaged the CDs with stuffed animals, educational materials and other items aimed at comforting terror-stressed kids.
The project went so well, the two organizations decided to keep working together. Putumayo had already developed a packet of lesson plans and activities tailored for elementary-school classrooms to accompany the original World Playground disc. Now, the label and Mercy Corps are working to train teachers to use music as a tool for teaching about world cultures. Thanks to a grant from the music-education charity First Octave, Mercy Corps will train 24 Portland Public Schools teachers using Putumayo materials.
"The great thing about Putumayo is that they immediately take away the fear that can surround learning about another culture," says Jack. "They're so user-friendly, they just transcend that usual nervousness."
"My original idea, when I started Putumayo, was to travel the world and introduce people in the U.S. to other cultures in an accessible way," says label founder Dan Storper. Both sides of the new partnership echo Storper's feeling that the two organizations' aims dovetail neatly.
"They've got such a great base among American music buyers, and we've got such a large operation overseas," says Jack. "I think we'll be able to do some really exciting things in the future." Zach Dundas
For more information see www.putumayo.com, www.mercycorps.org and www.firstoctave.org.
"WE WILL GRIND YOUR BONES TO DUST."
Hiss and Vinegar
OZONE: THE FALLOUT CONTINUES
Lately, some PDX music buyers have been so busy trying to figure out what's going on with Ozone, you'd think they were scientists in the pay of the Bush administration. Of course, local waxheads are adither not about the atmo's eroding UV prophylactic, but about the beloved Burnside record store. First, the original Ozone, at the corner of Southwest 11th Avenue and West Burnside, shut down in January. Then, Bruce Greif, co-owner of the O.G. Ozone, opened the spiffy Ozone Records O3 at 701 E Burnside St. And there was much rejoicing. Then, last week, signs bedecked a vacant West Burnside space next to Powell's City of Books announcing the imminent arrival of "Ozone Records U.K."
Qu'est-ce qui se passe?
Turns out the new, U.K.-appended incarnation of Ozone will be the baby of Janelle Jarosz, the other half of the original Ozone duo. According to Jarosz, the new store, slated for a mid-July opening, will emphasize her specialty in tracking down rare British imports. Otherwise, she says, the new shop "will be pretty much like the old Ozone." Except, of course, for the possible additions of a coffee cart out front and yer basic rock-'n'-roll barbershop (spreading like a rash!) in back.
What's with the name? Jarosz says the Ozone twins, just blocks apart on opposite banks of the Willamette, will be independent operations.
"Bruce and I are still great friends," she says. "The way to split the name was for each of us to add a little something to the end. I'm sure there'll be some confusion, but I'm also sure both of us will end up sending people to the other store quite a bit."
The more the merrier, we say. Now if only we could figure out a way to double the ozone layer, we'd be in business.
BUSTY BRIT'S BARRAGE BRINGS BIG-TIME BOO-BOO
Thousands of squealing Britney Spears fans seemed unfazed by a series of pyrotechnical catastrophes during her May 30 Rose Garden performance. Halfway through the virgin/whore's measly 75-minute performance, two extremely loud fireworks concussions caused an onstage blowout of the sound system, effectively cutting off all amplified sound for almost two whole songs. While the pause provided some relief for parents accompanying their girls (and boys!) to the event, dear Britney seemed unfazed and continued her onslaught of choreographed gyrations until the sounds was faithfully restored.
Not that we were, uh, there or anything. No. We were at Blackbird...watching an...experimental improv band...and ...getting ready...for our conceptual art installation. Yeah, that's it....
THE MISCELLANY NEVER STOPS
What trick of mirrors allows Art Alexakis to look so long and lanky in videos, when in real life (as H&V discovered when we nearly spilled beer all over the Everclear frontman at a recent Crystal Ballroom show) he's quite small?...Check newsstands for the debut of Gene Simmons' Tongue, a new "sex, style (and) rock 'n' roll" magazine produced by the geniuses at Metal Edge, endorsed by KISSling Simmons. Betwixt stupendously moronic articles and vanilla cheesecake, you'll find ads for a KISS box set, Simmons' own clothing company, KISS "Kondomz," "The Joy of Erotic Massage," "How to Use the Powers of Darkness" and some kind of pill christened with the evocative name Extendor...Possible Onion headline in another dimension: "ANGRY N.E.R.D. FAN BRAGS TO BUDDIES ABOUT ANONYMOUS PHONE CALL TO LOCAL MUSIC WRITER." Ah, well.
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