Steve Burgh, producer
Mercury SRM 1-3783
Recent years have witnessed the rise of a whole new breed of women rockers: tough, independent singer/songwriters who've assumed stances previously reserved almost exclusively for male performers. To wit, the beatnik punkism of Patti Smith, the ballsy blues swagger of Rickie Lee Jones, the quirky eccentricity of Stiff Records' Lene Lovich, and the out-and-out rock mettle evinced by the likes of Cindy Bullens, Carlene Carter, Rachel Sweet (a late-'70's street version of Brenda Lee), the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde, and Suzi Quatro. The days of the demure, soft-spoken singer/songwriter are on the wane, as women take to shaping their own personas.
Carolyne Mas, a twenty-four-year-old Bronxville, New York, native, has been heralded by the New York press (and her record company) as the 'female Bruce Springsteen.' While it's unfair to burden any artist with such a weighty--and altogether silly--comparison, some similarities exist; most notable a big, throaty voice, a dramatic preforming sensibility, and her songs' arrangements. Steve Burgh, who produced Steve Forbert's excellent debut, 'Alive on Arrival,' and David Landau, an itinerant guitarist on Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon tours, have framed Mas's zealously upbeat rock numbers in an expertly exuberant if somewhat familiar Springsteen-like setting. Crispin Cioe's saxophone runs resonate with the same vim and vigor that mark Clarence Clemons' reed work with Springsteen. Burgh has even re-created the 'Born to Run' Spectorish wall of sound--John Siegler's bass and Andy Newmark's drums surge with keen, kinetic unity, while keyboardist Robbie Kondor alternately pounds, pushes, and paces Mas's melodies along.
But when it comes down to it, Mas, who plays electric guitar and piano, has little in common with Springsteen's road-and-romance street-smart sagas. The cover photograph presents a diminutive, dark-eyed young lady attired in scarf, top hat, and black jacket more appropriate for a day at the polo grounds than for any back-alley rendezvous. And the New Yorker's themes are far more introverted and self-directed than Springsteen's. On 'Stillsane' (reminiscent in its chorus of Carl Carlton's hit 'Everlasting Love') she attempts a reaffermation of her sanity in the face of a fragmented relationship. 'Sadie Says,' which has all the earmarks of a Top 40 single (one of three tracks written with guitarist Landau), sports the emphatic chorus:
'Sadie says, Boy don't you worry
Sadie says it's going to be alright
Sadie is older and knows more than I do
And I believe what Sadie says is right'
Here, Mas grapples with an alter ego/imaginary friend in order to come to grips with the real world. Whether intentional or not, her true rock & roll colors are revealed on the opening verse of 'It's No Secret,' which resides in close musical proximity to the Yardbirds classic 'Shapes of Things.'
Mas sings in the succinct, precise phrases of a trained vocalist, which, in fact, she is, having studied at the American Music and Dramatic Academy and performed with the Light Opera of Manhattan. An educated larynx sometimes runs counter to rock's gritty spontaneity, and to her credit she manages to bypass that dilemma, succeeding even among the spirited, handclapping street gang shouts of 'Quote Goodbye Quote.'
She isn't all high-energy rock & roll. 'Snow,' a midtempo swell guided by Kondor's piano and Landau's tense, sparse guitar, walks a stylistic line between the dirgelike incantations of Patti Smith and the bellowing pop chanting of Barbra Streisand. 'Call Me (Crazy To)' calls to mind Carly Simon's level-voiced narrative compositions.
'Carolyne Mas' is by no means a flawless work. A few selections are buried on Side 2 as the deserve to be: She struggles to make sense (and fails) in 'Never Two Without Three,' while 'Do You Believe I Love You' suffers from a frantic, grating quality, and 'Sittin' in the Dark' just flails around in search of a distinctive hook. Mas scored her record contract in impressive short order after a series of New York City club dates (which met with much critical hoopla and praise) and an unprecedented airing of her demo tape on WNEW-FM. Her sheer moxie no doubt jarred listeners from their mellow a.o.r. (album-oriented-radio) stupors, and it's a good thing. The world needs more rock & rollers like her.