Anny Celsi
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Anny Celsi

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Man, there's a lot of great music out there - it drives me insane when people say "they just don't make 'em like they used to." In fact they do make 'em like they used to: right now artists are working successfully in virtually all styles and substyles and combinations of styles known to man since the dawn of recording.
Obviously there is better and worse music being made, and often the original impulse in a given genre is the freshest expression of that impulse, but that isn't close to being universally true and there is more fine music being made RIGHT NOW than in any time in history. Of course there is a lot of crap, too, but what else is new, and that's what Blogcritics is for: helping you to sort the schwingin' from the flaccid, the kernel from the husk, the dew from the doo.
Last month I reviewed an outstanding tribute to Lee Hazlewood, the song auteur who has used pop styles as a palette from which to paint sophisticated, noirish vignettes of relationships waxing and waning with a startling specificity.
Anny Celsi has proved the Hazlewood style of pop mining in the service of a pulp fiction song cycle is alive and thriving. I popped on her new Little Black Dress and Other Stories disc last night as I was recovering from strain of the Easter mini-vacation because the cover caught my eye: a striking Hopperesque, low-horizon illustration of a femme fatale in a little black dress perched on the shoulder of an open highway, emblematic Route 66 convertible slowing down to take a look.
The CD lives up to the cover: Chelsea's songwriting is amazingly in command of various pop-rock idioms as she tells her tale:
She was at the end of the bar, giving me her profile as she threw down her third martini. She had a mouth like an inkstain and a laugh like a fire engine, loud enough to drown out the band. I wondered what she was celebrating. A girl like that, a laugh that loud – either she’d just buried her husband or she’d just gotten off shift at the Macy’s cosmetics counter. Either way was okay with me -- I could use a good laugh tonight. I motioned to the bartender for another, then nodded toward the end of the bar, where Fire Engine was busy spilling her purse and rethinking her lipstick. "Buyin’ one for the party doll, eh?" He shrugged as he reached for the gin. "It’s your dime, buddy." Yeah. Everybody's a critic....
The CD package contains cool little story snippets such as this to set the mood for each song.
As with many songwriters, Celsi's (pronounced "Chelsea") voice is not great, but is a pleasant combo of Sheryl Crow and Amy Mann - I'd love to hear a troupe of allstars tackle this project, but in the meantime Celsi's original is more than good enough.
Much to my annoyance, LIttle Black Dress is not yet available through Amazon, but is through her own evocative site, which also has her sharp, clever lyrics, including the first song on the album, which sets the story up from the perspective of the fool on the cover driving the sports car:
'TWAS HER HUNGER BROUGHT ME DOWN
No it ain’t the fall that kills you, it’s your meeting with the ground
Twas her beauty that bewitched me
Twas her hunger brought me down
I had money and position, silver watch to keep my time
Trusting wife and pretty children. When I met her I was fine
Twas her engine that propelled me and soon we were city bound
Twas her beauty that derailed me
Twas her hunger brought me down
I took twenty thousand dollars, where it went I can’t explain
I’d be richer had I thrown it from the window of the train
Beauty needs so much attention, hunger does not compromise
Soon the city was our prison, I fell further in her eyes
No it ain’t the fall that kills you, it’s your meeting with the ground
Twas her beauty that befell me
Twas her hunger brought me down
- Eric Olsen - www.blogcritics.com


Former Tearjerkers front woman Anny Celsi possesses such a radiantly reassuring voice that it almost doesn’t matter what she’s singing about. Despite occasional song-title clichés (“Can’t Win ‘Em All”) on her new album, Little Black Dress & Other Stories (Ragazza Music), she usually does have something beguiling to say, as on the title tune, where she confides, “I gave you my everything, and now I want it back.” Amid the uptempo jangle of “Empty Hangers,” Celsi lets slip another quietly devastating line, “Every girl deserves a nervous breakdown.” She croons the deceptively breezy “Summer Fling” and “Day After Tomorrow” with a warmth that’s similar to the Bangles’ Vicki Peterson, and her harmonica retorts imbue the equally winning “He’s Always Looking at the Sky” with a Bob Dylan flavor. On the CD, her folksy melodies are fleshed out by a who’s-who lineup of stellar locals — including Marvin Etzioni, Steve Barton, Randy Weeks and Phil Parlapiano — and she’s joined tonight by ¬
ex-Plimsouls guitarist Eddie Muñoz. (Falling James)
- LA Weekly


"clever…the music is consistently strong to boot." -- Ken Barnes, USA Today

“Affecting, pop-smart tunes” – Chris Morris, Billboard

“Hit material folk pop” – Tom “Tearaway” Schulte, Outsight Communications

“In the classic singer-songwriter mode, Anny’s sunny/dark folky-rock took me to a “Raymond Chandler-esqe” Los Angeles of hard lessons learned and the high cost of love. Dig it! It’s black and white 50’s film-noir in color…” Two Louies

“Little Black Dress & Other Stories is a superb debut album…Anny Celsi is a talent to watch.” -- Michael Toland, www.highbias.com

"...a beatnik-cool performer who veers from poppy, bouncy beats to jazzy piano bar riffs and sexy come-ons…she’s sensitive but no wimp and a fellow traveler to Aimee Mann and Sheryl Crow. The “pop-noir” soundtrack of her solo debut, “Little Black Dress,” wears a veneer of L.A. Confidential style." -- Bob Ruggiero, Houston Press

“Think of Victoria Williams, Aimee Mann, Suzanne Vega and Sheryl Crow mixed together and you begin to get the picture. Anny is pretty much their equal as a songwriter.” -- S.P. Clarke, Two Louies

“A musical journey in the best sense, "Little Black Dress" unfolds like a tightly written script.” – Mark Spangler, The Oregonian

“An ultra-cool, ultra-hip album that is one of the best new releases I've heard in a long time. Check it out.” -- Ed Kociela, Utah Daily News

“It's not often that listening to a record evokes the same buzz of satisfaction that one gets upon finishing a particularly ripping book. Seldom does an album sustain an arc of characters and situations that is consistently surprising, amusing and touching. "Little Black Dress and Other Stories" is all this and more… "Little Black Dress" is a perfect fit.” – John Chandler, Portland Tribune

“When she starts to sing she's got something to say, and she says it in this way designed to separate the boys from the men, if you know what I mean and I think you do.” -- Ben Varkentine, www.ink19.com

"Anny Celsi is a Cali girl with plenty of sass…There isn't a weak track in the set, which is no small achievement." -- Adrian Zupp, HARP

"The music is all in Celsi's writing, which is direct, killing...needing no ornamentation..." -- Greil Marcus, Real Life Rock Top Ten

"...a marvelously cool, hip, subtle singer and songwriter, who can pull off the kind of genre-jumping of which I usually disapprove, equally convincing with a Dusty Springfield/Jackie DeShannon style ballad as a Peggy Lee-ish torch song...." -- John Conquest, 3rd Coast Music

- Various



If the mood setting fragments from pulp noir novels that accompany each of the tracks are any indication, then LA based singer-songwriter Celis (pronounced Chelsea) could probably make a useful living penning short stories. Indeed the opening narrative 'Twas Her Hunger Brought Her Down is actually inspired by Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie novel.

However, should she decide to flesh out her literary talents, hopefully she won't abandon her other muse because this is a fine debut album of folk pop and songs about cheap booze, hopeful losers, femme fatales and female empowerment with a soft but slightly burred voice somewhere between Aimee Mann, Chrissie Hynde and Sheryl Crow.

She covers a fair few bases. Wicked Little Heart and All I'm Gonna Say are moody jazznik numbers, the former a slinky blues prowl that might have well served Eartha Kitt or Peggy Lee, the latter all echoey percussion, cellar bar piano, wah wah burst of bluesy guitar and a touch of Joni. Contrast those with Summer Fling with a sunny chorus bouncer that conjures memories of the Cowsills, the power pop Can't Win 'Em All and the Meredith Brooks-like So Many Bad Dreams or the 60s folk rock of Day After Tomorrow and the harmonica introed Empty Hangers ("every girl deserves a nervous breakdown").

Her influences and roots are probably also evidenced by her choice of collaborators. She closes the album with a cover, a fine folk rock along version of No Time Like Now from defunct much underrated 80s guitar rock outfit Translator whose Steve Barton provides guitar and harmonies on the album. And while Anny and Kevin Jarvis produce the bulk of the material, the album's standout title track - and surely a potential single hit and future goldmine in country rock covers - is done in a Marshall Crenshaw style by Marvin Etzioni, formerly of jangling guitar rock outfit Lone Justice. Dressed to impress indeed.
go to www.netrhythms.com for full piece with image
(mike davies)
- NETRHYTHMS.COM (UNITED KINGDOM)


Interview by Claudia Zuluaga

When Anny Celsi’s innovative new album Little Black Dress & other Stories was released in May 2003 on the Ragazza label, reviewers compared the L.A. artist’s poignant and complex talents to those of Aimee Mann.

The initial inspiration for this album came when Anny – along with Suzanne Vega, Bruce Springsteen and Mann – was invited to contribute to a benefit compilation album, Songs Inspired by Literature. The resulting single, “Twas Her Hunger Brought Me Down,” was just the beginning of Anny’s thematic tour de force.


On Little Black Dress, her first major release as a self-titled artist, Celsi takes folk rock and jazzy pop and combines them with dark snippets (in the form of the albums’ liner notes) of noir-ish short stories. Her fusion of music and literature results in a haunting dialogue between catchy, melodic songwriting, and the rich, evocative imagery of the classic Gothic-American short story.

Claudia: You not only have a preteen son, but there were times during the recording of this album when you had two day jobs. How on earth did you do it all?

Anny: Actually, I think at one point I had four jobs! I was waitressing, working at a grocery store, writing radio programs for an airline, doing data entry…in between all that, I was recording when I had a free day or evening. That’s one reason the CD took almost three years to make. My son is with his father for half of every week, and I would try to schedule working/recording when he wasn’t’ with me. Sometimes, of course, he would have to come to the studio with me for a few hours. As an artist and mother, I hoped he would find it fascinating to watch a record being put together, and would count himself extremely luck to be in the company of talented musicians, something he would look back on later in life with fondness and gratitude. There were times like that, which made it a lot of fun. He plays piano, and he even put down a keyboard part on one of the songs (“Day After Tomorrow”). A mother’s dream come true! But for the most part he was bored. For times like those, there’s Gameboy, TV and Harry Potter books.

Do you think its’ possible for a mom to devote herself to motherhood and art without feeling as though one is getting the short shrift?
Well, devotion means undivided commitment, right? So, not really. It depends of course on what form your art takes. I think many mothers have solved that problem by doing things like teaching art to children, recording children’s songs, or costuming the school play (and remember those clouds Meryl Streep painted on her son’s walls in Kramer vs. Kramer)? Those things can be very fulfilling, but they may not have anything to do with your own artistic vision.
When my son was small, any time taken for myself (whether writing, recording, performing or traveling) felt like time taken away from him, and it didn’t feel good. Now that he’s older and has his own interests, it’s much easier to find that time.
As a side note, very few mothers I know of any artistic bent seem to have full support from their children’s’ fathers (whether separate or together), in terms of getting the time they need for creating – it seems to be an assumption that their first priority is to take care of the child’s needs. It’s usually the mother who puts her trip on hold for the children, I rarely see male musicians doing it.
Your son has gone on tour with you…I remember, as a child, it was impossible for me to see my mother and father outside of their parental roles. Do you think it’s a challenge for him to see you as not only his mother, but also as an artist?
He enjoys coming to shows with me when he can, and its fun to have him there. He’s actually a lot of help with selling CDs (although I admit he has a financial incentive). One of these days I hope he’ll want to play in my band. He’s almost ready! The last time we toured together was a couple of years ago, and it was wonderful. It was fairly easy at that time, because it was the southwest, and I have a lot of family in New Mexico, so he was able to take some downtime. He didn’t have to be at every show, but the ones he went to, he really had a good time. He likes staying in motels, eating in diners and riding in the van listening to music. Of course, it’s absolutely crucial when touring with children to make time for stopping to get out, wander around, look at Indian ruins, do the corn maze, get some strawberries or whatever’s going on at the side of the road. You can’t just rush from gig to gig like you would with the other grownups.
I have to say that one of my ‘parenthood dreams’ was to have a little pal to travel with. Often our expectations about parenthood don’t really come true, but that one has. I remember driving through the Arizona desert at 2:00 a.m., my son asleep beside me, watching lightning flash in the sky ahead of me, listening to some Native American music on the radio, and thin - Hip Mama #30 – The Lineage Issue


In her more carefree youth, Celsi was one of the main forces behind Los Angeles all-girl power poppers The Tearjerkers, but the lady has grown up quite a bit since then, as evidenced by her second album, Little Black Dress & Other Stories. However, it appears that it’s been a woeful road through adulthood, as a gander at some of the song titles herein, like “It Hurts/My Heart/To Hear/Your Voice,” “Empty Hangers,” “So Many Bad Dreams,” and “Shut Out The Shine” immediately tells you that this ain’t no album to be played during romantic interludes. Little Black Dress & Other Stories is a maudlin look at unrequited and shouldn’t-have-been-requited loves along with as profiles of other unsavory characters, all very eloquently portrayed by Celsi. Her voice might remind one of a less throaty Robin Lane, and her musical themes range from torchy folk to pop rock to coffee house bebop. The best tracks include “’Twas Her Hunger Brought Me Down,” which is skillfully written from a male perspective, “Summer Fling,” which weds a jazzy verse to a Spectorian chorus, the dark, mysterious “All I’m Gonna Say,” the 10,000 Maniacs-influenced “Empty Hangers” in which Celsi thoughtfully claims that “every girl deserves a nervous breakdown,” and “No Time Like Now,” a sprightly folk song with a cool harmony vocal courtesy of Steve Barton. Little Black Dress & Other Stories will definitely touch your heart and will wake up some suppressed memories, which may serve as therapeutic for many of us. (David Bash)
- Bucket Full of Brains


Discography

CDs released:
"Tangle-Free World" - September, 2007
"Little Black Dress & Other Stories" - 2003
"She Walks In" - 1996

Compilations:
Songs Inspired by Literature - Vol. I
Rock Mama Compilation

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Nominated for an LA Weekly Award: Best Pop/Rock Songwriter, 2004 -- Anny Celsi grew up on the steel-grey, rain-soaked streets of Portland, Oregon. After moving into the harsh daylight of Los Angeles, she spent the last years of the 20th century playing with various bands around town before focusing on a solo effort. Teaming up with producers Marvin Etzioni and Kevin Jarvis, she fashioned a collection of musical tales combining the intrigue and mystery of dime-novel culture with the classic pop elements of hook, line and melody. The resulting CD, Little Black Dress & Other Stories, has been described by reviewers as “black and white 50’s film-noir in color,” “Hit material folk pop,” and “An ultra-cool, ultra-hip album that is one of the best new releases I've heard in a long time.” Her songs have been recorded by alt-country artists Grey DeLisle and Claudia Russell, and one of her songs was included on Chapter One: Songs Inspired by Literature, a compilation CD to benefit adult literacy programs, along with Suzanne Vega, Aimee Mann and Bruce Springsteen.

Anny has opened shows for artists such as Steve Forbert, Tish Hinojosa, Peter Mulvey, Amy Rigby, Randy Weeks, Duane Jarvis and Markus Rill.

Visit www.myspace.com/annycelsi