Sunday, October 5, 2014

Flat Earth

After such a flattering introduction by Frank Watson to Acoustic
Indiana, it seems impossible to live up to Frank's words. So instead
here is a review of Krista Detor's last CD by Eric Barraclough. It's
a little wordy but insightful. And just appeared in The Reluctant
Famulus, which is a Science Fiction fanzine that mainly concentrates
on American history (To quote Anne Russell “I'm not making this up,
you know!”). Thanks to the author, Eric Barraclough, and the
editor, Tom Sadler, for permission and text.

Flat Earth by
Eric Barraclough

Flat Earth Diary
Krista Detor
Records 255
12 Tracks

Flat Earth Diary
-Notes from the
Krista Detor
Records 2013
220 pages

       For the first time in four years Krista Detor has just released a new album, Flat Earth Diary.
       It garnered a 5-star review in Britain (in Rock n' Reel to be precise) and reviews were pretty good in her native U.S.A. To say the least.
       Those four years were spent touring which included a 10 day sailing trip in Lake Huron's North Channel, even ending with a sail to a gig.  That was really a holiday for her but she utilized the time, writing the lyrics and tunes that make-up the Flat Earth Diary and providing the CD with its title.   What Flat Earth has to do with being on a lake of water will be explained later.
       The most striking element of Flat Earth Diary is that (unlike her previous CDs) the lyrics are not readily accessible.  As with Leonard Cohen, you can expect to listen to them more than once before total comprehending.  Those veils of obscurity are probably because she views this as her most personal album and as proclaiming her private thoughts can be rather like a striptease, it was advisable to be more subtle than blatant, more tease than stripped bare.
       To quote the poem Unworthy Eyes by Susan Swartz (which just happens to be one of Krista's inspirations) “every poem's intent reveals itself/ reluctantly, incrementally,/ in fragments of meaning.”
       Although Krista does not admit it, at least three of the songs reverberate with echoes of her divorce (which might come as a little surprising as that was a few years ago and since then she's happily remarried but then again sources for her inspirations go back as far as her childhood).  Probably the most prominent of those reverberations are in the opening track Ferryman's Dream. “It's not that you've done something wrong/ Or that I got shot in a song – shot in a song/ It's just that it's gotten me low/ this sedition with trials yet to go/ I've heard your confession -/ But mine's still locked in a drawer/ So I'm packing it in and I swear to you I will hear no more.”
       Where as the bonus track Blowing Kisses is derived from a surprisingly heartwarming incident from the divorce's aftermath when her daughter, Aurora, (about to be escorted by an air stewardess on to a flight to visit Aurora's Dad) asked why the divorce had happened.
       As Krista has remarked “The thing that's striking me most about this handful of songs is that they're more personal than I'm ordinarily comfortable with.”
       But then she offered her audience a key to unlock the vagaries.  And if you'd met her you'd say she thinks of her listeners as an audience and not fans or you'd more likely say she views her audience as friends.  It's noticeable that in person when speaking causally to anyone after a show she will reach out and lightly touch that person on the elbow or upper-arm.  It's doubtful that she's even aware of her gesture but it shows how close she feels to her audience.
       And that is not insecurity!  On stage she can hold her own with the best from the field, such as the likes of Joe Crookston and Tim Grimm, with whom she has toured as The Good Bad Luckys (the name comes from one of Crookston's songs but that is another story).
       With a four years gap, the new recording reveals a small waver in her voice that wasn't there before.  Almost as though she can't hit the right note but then does. It's something that she allows for dramatic effect. She really can still hold a note, loud and long, strong and clear.  If you want proof and are ever at one of her gigs request her song from the Picasso Project and be prepared to be vowed.
       And it's well worth going to her gigs because she doesn't simply perform her songs, she relives them.
       As for the “key,”  that comes in the form of a short paperback she released at the same time as the CD.  The book (entitled Flat Earth Diary – Notes from the Bridge) has been described as “a rare backstage pass to the creation of the album.”  It could also be described as an invitation to enter the workings of an artistic mind.
       Although both descriptions are aesthetically accurate an equally illuminating perception would be that of a multi-layered conversation with a poetic genius who interrupts her musings with e-mail messages between close friends, quotes from songwriters/poets who have influenced her and limericks (not of the Nantucket variety).  Her use of many typefaces might be perceived as pretentious by those who don't know her but the only perceivable pretension on her part is applying a dab of make-up before a concert.  That is to say, Krista Detor is totally unpretentious.
       Following a fragmented intro, she then delves into her experiences (and her laptop's “bullsh*t” files) and conjures up memories, inspirations, partly written and abandoned lyrics that evolved into the Flat Earth songs.  A first draft, followed by the full draft, followed by those words with the music.
       For instance, one of the songs launching point was the Cinderella folk tale. What if Cinderella married Prince Charming only to find he was a despot and the commoners were rising in revolt.  That song, Belle of the Ball includes the words “ who will sing 'God save the King'/ when kingdom's coming down?”  which is a sardonic juxtaposition of two phrases that have been around for time immemorial but nobody else has even thought to combine them.  As Gene Sharp (another free thinker) once noted “Why, although apples had fallen from trees for centuries, did it remain for Newton to formulate the law of gravity?”  Not that a sardonic juxtaposition is the equal to Newtonian Physics but it certainly displays her originality and intellect.
       But that isn't the full story.  Here is how Krista recalls the songs origin.
       “Meanwhile, American politics were hitting a seemingly all-time low as we geared for the big election; an amoral group of pantywaists in a grid-locked 2-party catastrophe, cow-towing to all manner of greasy special interests while the whole nation suffered.  Good people losing their homes, losing their jobs, unions were falling; pundits pandering to misinformation, ignorance and fear, and not a shred of honor to be found anywhere.  Small beams of light shot up here and there – in the virally-spreading TED talks, the Occupy movement, progressives in the main-stream media once in a while, even.  But not enough to override the side show that our elected leaders had made of the democratic process.
       “Okay, I've read enough Hunter S. Thompson to know that this is little more than “business as usual” - but that's a cynical view that he didn't survive.  I try to be hopeful, though some days I wonder if I'll survive mine.  And yes, I know that cynicism is tedious and common – an utter failure of imagination.  But I'm drawn that way, despite valiant efforts at manufacture of a sunny disposition.  When Belle of the Ball found its way to solidity, I was deep in the dark waters.  The world was watching the blood sport of our political gladiator games; stressing another war, an Iranian invasion?  I wasn't sure at all who I'd vote for.  For the first time, if I'd vote at all.”
       If that is stream of consciousness writing, it is written by an articulate poet.  A very angry and very articulate poet but a very articulate poet never-the-less.
       There are some omissions in her book.  Such as last names.  David is her (second) husband,
David Weber.  Jim (who owned and captained the boat) is Jim Krause and Anne is his wife.  Anne Hurley.  They're all on the CD.   You might like to check out Jim and Anne's own CD, Madeleine Bay.   And there's the song Red Velvet Box which “started out as a lament of love lost.  Luckily, later it had a sense of humor about things.”   In the book, Krista refers to a red velvet finger-puppet box her grandmother gave her when she was a child.  In person she will also tell you an additional story of a time her then-boyfriend put a long red box with her name on it under the Christmas tree.  Krista thought it would be a gag-box with ever smaller boxes inside each other until one minute cube-box which would contain an engagement ring.  “And in the red velvet box, baby, box baby/ Maybe a sweet little ring/ Oh if you give me your heart, baby/ I will never ever, need another thing.”
       It turned out to be a shotgun!
       And the title Flat Earth?  That's in the book.  It came from being out on Lake Huron with the horizon in all directions being just a flat, straight waterline and “wanting more than anything to believe that the endless water poured off the edge of the flat earth to myriad stars.”
       Krista is a science fiction reader with Terry Pratchett at the head of her reading list.  When she wrote these songs she was reading one of his novels for the fifth time.  That might explain something.