Debby Schwartz
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Debby Schwartz

New York City, New York, United States

New York City, New York, United States
Solo Folk Psychedelic


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"Graded on a Curve: Debby Schwartz, A Garden of My Own"

Debby Schwartz is properly appraised as a veteran musician, a singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist combining broader than usual range with a fairly low profile. As part of the small but potent roster of the NYC/Connecticut-based Twin Lakes Records that might change; her new LP A Garden of My Own offers 11 strong selections in a contemporary electric folk vein.

I was familiar with the output of Debby Schwartz long before recognizing her by name, having crossed paths with her band The Aquanettas roughly a quarter century ago. Flaunting a handle reminiscent of the B-52s, their first and sole full-length Love with a Proper Stranger sported a sound comparable to the Bangles if they’d been from Hoboken and didn’t hit the big time; appearing in early 1990, it was a thorough byproduct of the decade prior.

As issued by Nettwerk/I.R.S. Records the disc never found an appropriate audience. My exposure to The Aquanettas came through a casual acquaintance rather than a personal copy, and after giving it a fresh spin via the resources of the internet I’m bluntly kinda bummed I didn’t pick it up, though I don’t recall ever seeing it in the racks back then.

If I never stumbled across Love with a Proper Stranger, until very recently I didn’t even know Schwartz’s Wrongs of Passage existed. Released in ’98 on Joan Osborne’s Womanly Hips label, it seems to have fallen through the cracks, and I still haven’t heard it. I do know her bass and vocal work in Patrick Gubler’s post-Tower Recordings outfit P.G. Six however; it sets the table for A Garden of My Own quite nicely.

While less experimental than P.G. Six can be on occasion, Schwartz does share with Gubler a palpable Brit-folk jones, a close commonality being the fleet digits of one Bert Jansch both solo and as part of Pentangle. In fact, Gubler lends his services to a handful of tracks here, and he’s far from the only noteworthy contributor. Indeed, the album was engineered and produced by Ivan Julian, estimable ex member of Richard Hell and the Voidoids.

Also on board are bassist Peter Stuart and violinist/violist Katie Gentile of Hoboken’s Special Pillow, he formerly of ‘80s garage rockers The Tryfles and she a factor in ‘90s NY indie supergroup Run On. Plus, there’s in-demand violinist Claudia Chopek (Norah Jones, Moby, Springsteen, Ryan Adams, The Ladybug Transistor, The Gramercy Arms), Bongos/The Health & Happiness Show string-bender James Mastro, and fellow P.G. Six-ers Robert Dennis and Bob Bannister on drums and guitar, the latter also previously of Fire in the Kitchen and Tono-Bungay.

All this input differs in equivalence, and A Garden of My Own is a multifaceted record. Along with the warmth of her voice, the opening cut wastes no time in revealing Schwartz’s fingerpicking dexterity, those well-matched aspects accentuated by the edginess of Gentile’s string work. Near the end, Bannister’s guitar integrates just a hint of psychedelia into what’s essentially a singer-songwriter context.

“Hummingbird” delivers a robust beginning, and following track “Ambivalent” only furthers the intersection of nimble picking and sturdy bowing as the vocalizing continues to establish an appealing mixture of power and control. Schwartz frankly conjures the attractive warmth of late-‘60s folkies gone introspective; totally accessible but too tough to really be described as pretty, her uninhibited flow lacks in cutesiness or the coy.

A bonus element comes via Stuart’s bass; subtle throughout, he grows gradually more assertive toward the song’s adroit close. Retaining focus while broadening the spectrum is the terrific “Dreaming New York City in the Middle of LA,” which suitably proffers a blend of late-‘60s West Coast folk-rock with backing voices lending a smidge of pop as Mastro’s fuzz guitar nods to Nuggets-style psych. Additionally, a few licks are suggestive of the pedal steel, an undercurrent of country-rock folded into the rich batter.

Notably absent is the diminishing factor of appropriation. To elaborate, Schwartz’s lyrics mention reading the poetry of key Beat figure Gregory Corso, the folkish surroundings complimenting the reference and easily avoiding the unearned cool of callow namedropping. Moving ahead, Stuart and Gentile provide heft to the intertwining guitar atmospherics of “London;” while a lot of non-topical, inward-looking folk both old and new produces a vibe conducive to late-night listening, up to this point the album radiates a decided aura of bright morning sunshine.

Schwartz’s skill as a player has been accurately likened to Nick Drake, but to my ear “London” recalls Bradley’s Barn by the Beau Brummells (coincidentally an act Stuart has performed with), as Gentile’s jittery catgut freak-out near the end reinforces the contemporary design. Furthermore, “Arise” adds Dennis’ drums to the equation as Chopek momentarily steps into the picture on violin, the sum scoring a full-on folk-rock-psych merger, especially once Gubler starts stepping on his effects pedal.

With “Satan, You Brought Me Down” (which also serves as the title cut to Schwartz’s Twin Lakes EP of earlier this year) she goes it acoustic and truly solo, along the way earning her associations to Neil Young and without sounding particularly beholden to the guy. Landing nearer to Jansch is the stripped-down intensity of “Bulldozer,” the disc’s lengthiest number and a standout of unstrained emotion.

Bringing a new sonic wrinkle is “All to Become Somebody,” the employment of Gubler’s hurdy-gurdy oozing a non-overwrought trippiness that’s a tad remindful of Kendra Smith’s post-Dream Syndicate material. It’s an ambiance extending into “My Hope,” though Schwartz’s impassioned vocals give the record one of its most striking moments.

“That’s What Johnny Told Me on the Train” again reverts to solo mode, the fingerpicking brisk yet weighty as she cozies up to the coffeehouse. With one exception, it’s here that the singing comes closest to traditional prettiness; saving the title track for last, Schwartz remains alone with her axe for “Sitting in a Garden of My Own,” her voice emitting a slight but engaging similarity to Barbara Manning.

Schwartz’s diversity is impressive; even more so is the LP’s cohesiveness as it moves from the fuller environments of its first half and into solo territory, the trim duration assured and full of personality. The compositions collected here do give the impression of spanning across a period of years rather than resulting from a single spurt of productivity.

This isn’t necessarily a fault, though it would be nice to hear what Schwartz and a handful of collaborators could solidify in a relatively concise timeframe. In the meantime, A Garden of My Own is a welcome addition to the current musical landscape from an artist of admirable perseverance and growth.

A- - The Vinyl District

"A Catchy, Pensive, Compelling New Album and a Cake Shop Show from the Aquanettas’ Debby Schwartz"

A Catchy, Pensive, Compelling New Album and a Cake Shop Show from the Aquanettas’ Debby Schwartz
by delarue

Debby Schwartz is one of the most distinctive, compelling singers in rock, with a coolly expressive alto voice that can be sultry one moment and then quirky and funny the next: Dawn Oberg comes to mind. Back in the 90s, Schwartz fronted cult favorite powerpop band the Aquanettas. Since then, she’s pursued a solo career. She’s got an excellent new album, Garden of My Own (streaming at Bandcamp), with an all-star cast of players and an album release show coming up on Sept 24 at 10 PM at Cake Shop. Cover is a reasonable $8.

The album’s dostamtly George Harrrison-tinged opening track, Hummingbird, comtemplates bitterness and regret, Kate Gentile and Claudia Chopek’s stark violins paired agianst Schwartz’ own elegant fingerpicking. “You’ve learned to play on the tolerance of those too kind to call you on the fact you’ve overturned, go if you want to you, know you’ve beeen found out if you get burned,” Schwartz warns.

The second track, Ambivalent, is much the same, elegant electric guitar accents intermingled with the acoustic – Bob Bannister. Pat Gubler and James Mastro play the electrics here, with Peter Stewart on bass. Dreaming New York City in the Middle of LA is a classic example of East Coast angst coming unraveled on the other side of the continent, set to a gorgeous paisley underground backdrop, twang and jangle and resonant washes from the electrics contrasting with Schwartz’s spiky acoustic. “The roaches on my kitchen wall hang flaccid and serene while my neighbors ram their door through with a car,” Schwartz bemoans, “Please get me out of here.”

London brings back a lingering rainy-day atmosphere: “Something vile has been haunting me for days now…flashing eyes and words that burned into your ears, did you cry?” Schwartz broods. Arise has a moody gravitas not unlike the Church, a band the Aquanettas once toured with, in folk-rock mode: on the last verse, we get funereal drums from Robert Dennis.

The album’s drollest track is the ambling Satan You Brought Me Down. The album’s longest track, Bulldozer, is also its most hypnotic: Schwartz might be addressing the evils of gentrification here. To Become Somebody keeps the hypnotic atmosphere going, Gabler’s hurdy-gurdy adding a distinct Scottish folk flavor. The next track, My Hope comes across a more soaring second part of that song.

That’s What Johnny Told Me on the Train balances a bouncy pop melody against more of that 4AD, rainswept open-tuned guitar ambience. The album ends with the bittersweetly anthemic Sitting in a Garden of My Own. Schwartz also has an ep out recently comprising several of these tracks along with the lushly luscious folk noir anthem Hills of Violent Green, a showcase for some literally breathtaking, swooping upper-register vocals. - New York Music Daily

"Bandcamp Bump: Debby Schwartz, Eddie Dixon, Etc."

Debby Schwartz is an old college friend of mine who is a music lifer. She's best known for her time in The Aquanettas, an all-female power-pop band that disbanded in 1995 after some rough treatment from the industry - an old story, except they were on an indie label. Talk about bad luck. Their 1990 album, Love With The Proper Stranger, has aged well - give it a spin on Spotify. So when I heard from Debbie that she had a new EP out, Satan You Brought Me Down, I headed immediately to Bandcamp to check it out.

Debby's contralto has grown deeper and richer in the intervening years but retains that little quaver of vulnerability that makes it so easy to connect with her singing. Accompanying herself on acoustic guitar and working a seam of Americana that is slightly hypnotic and emotionally resonant, she's come up with five winning songs here. Hypnotic turns to haunting on All To Become Somebody, thanks to Pat Gubler's expert work on the hurdy gurdy and a melody that seems as old as time itself. Both the EP and upcoming album were produced by former Voidoid Ivan Julian with a sensitivity to Debbie's voice and live yet dimensional sound. Flashing back to seeing The Aquanettas at Brooklyn Woodstock, I never could have imagined that Debby would be making her strongest music 30 years later. Believe it. - AnEarFul


Still working on that hot first release.



I've been performing music since 1981, most recently as bassist and backing vocalist for P.G. Six band (Drag City) and Ember Schrag

My most recent solo releases are with Twin Lakes Records and include an EP, Satan, you brought me down (April 18, 2014), and A Garden of My Own (September 23, 2014), an LP available on vinyl and CD.

I was a lead singer/rhythm guitar player for The Aquanettas from around 1987 through 1994, along with Jill Richmond (lead guitar), Claudine Troise (bass), and Stephanie Seymour (drums/vocals). Our first and only full-length album, Love With The Proper Stranger, was released on Nettwerk/IRS Records in March of 1990. Subsequent EPs were released on Major Label RecordsPlastic Records (UK), and Giant/Rockville Records

My first solo album, Wrongs of Passage, produced by James Mastro originally for Joan Osborne's Womanly Hips label, was released on Mercury Records in 1998.

Band Members