Rose Polenzani
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Rose Polenzani


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The best kept secret in music


"At Iota, Rose Polenzani's Dark Melodies"

by Joe Heim

Polenzani has a great big beautiful voice, but most of the time she sings quietly in a way that soaks up attention. Joined by keyboardist Daniel Brindley, of the local group the Brindley Brothers, she worked through songs from her first three albums and, since she hasn't released a CD since 2001, plenty of new material.

There's a lovely, placid quality to her singing and she uses it to disguise songs that are often dark and dire and wholly disconcerting. Her cover of Paul Williams's "When the River Meets the Sea" was haunting and magnificent. On her own troubling, Chauceresque love song "Ramon," she pined, "On June the fourth we were to wed; I've slain your bastard boy instead."

That's not the kind of material that makes it to the top of any pop chart. To her credit, that doesn't seem to interest Polenzani at all. Part of a new generation of talented female singer-songwriters that includes Erin McKeown, Jess Klein and Beth Amsel, with whom she recorded the excellent CD "Voices on the Verge," Polenzani is staking a claim to intriguing material well beyond standard pop fare.

It wasn't all gloom and doom. Polenzani can also be quite funny and silly. On a song about not wanting to lose a lover because of her snoring, she moaned, "If I snore, if I snore; baby, there's bound to be a cure."

Cures are hard to come by for the slew of ... pop divas dominating the scene today, but Polenzani and her kind provide a welcome antidote. - The Washington Post

"Intriguing, Intimate, Hallucinogenic..."

By Dave Madeloni

A visitor to Rose Polenzani's website is greeted by a short vignette -- descriptive of a few seconds hanging out with a "busker" friend at the Davis Square T Stop in Boston. "Today a sweet lady with a shin-length puffy purple coat and a pink scarf and hat was coming down ... her steps, slightly akimbo like she had a sensitive hip. She took her hand off the rail in order to wave to Pamela (who wasn't looking), and it was one of those waves that closes and opens instead of waggles."

The woman disappears onto the train, unnoticed. Polenzani is reminded of an encounter a few days earlier: "I was walking down Garden Street in Cambridge and a man with a golden tie gave me such a resounding hello that I replied without thinking -- "Hi...." -- such a wispy, lofty, sigh-ish reply, that I spent the next block trying to recreate it. I was a salutation balloon, hissing all the way down the street..."

When placed under Polenzani's magnifying glass, these seemingly insignificant moments coalesce into intriguing, intimate, and mildly hallucinogenic anecdotes -- much like Polenzani's songs. Her most recent, self-titled record features her trenchant eye for detail and a voice that is both supple and haunting.

The Chicago native with a flair for storytelling has toured with The Indigo Girls, played at the prestigious Lillith Fair and Newport Folk festivals, and joined the popular Voices On The Verge (which included rising talents Erin McKeown, Beth Amsel, and Jess Klein).

Serving her musical apprenticeship around so many accomplished recording artists educated and encouraged Polenzani. "From Jane Siberry, I learned to sit in your artistry when you're on stage. I think Vic Chesnutt inspired me to pay attention to all my songs, and not play favorites too much. Catie Curtis really cares about her audience, and wants the best for them. And the Indigo Girls have taught many things, but possibly the most important are to remember how in debt you are to your audience, and to treat them with respect, and also to remember that the world of music is not a competition." Polenzani added, "That's a very hard lesson to learn for me, but I can enjoy other people's music freely for the first time in years because of this lesson."

And, like her busker friend Pamela, Polenzani still performs on the streets and subway stations of Beantown. "You would think that busking might be on the low end of the spectrum, but it's actually a joyful activity," she said. "It's a healthy, intensely social form of employment. Sometimes I feel like a slacker because I pause to talk to people -- strangers and friends alike. But I'm my own boss..."

Polenzani, who will be appearing at Oona's [Restaurant in Bellows Falls Vermont] tonight, has been compared to the likes of Tori Amos, P J Harvey, Leonard Cohen, and Rickie Lee Jones. She was the standout in a highly competitve field at The Iron Horse's Songwriter Slam a year ago [in Northampton Massachusetts].

When asked to choose a career turning point, Polenzani picked one she called "bittersweet" -- a rainy, windswept opening slot for the Indigo Girls at Red Rocks amphitheater in Colorado. "I remember having to keep my eye on the microphone, because the wind was blowing it off position. I was so concerned about riding the weather and finishing the songs that I never stopped to think about my performance -- or try to make any "magic" happen in the music. At one point the guitar shorted and my accompanist had to take it off stage and I sang a song a cappella. I could barely hear myself for the weather."

The storm subsided and the Indigo Girls took over. "Something about their voices, bolstered by their huge fan-choir that knows all the words, and the glory of that venue, with the barometric intensity -- I started to cry," said Polenzani. "I don't often feel what you might call 'real ambition.' But that night -- I wanted my music to take me farther than I'd ever dared hope before. What those people were sharing was so beautiful, I didn't care how many miles I had to drive and car payments I had to miss, I wanted to live inside of it." - Vermont's Brattleboro Reformer Newspaper


Rose Polenzani (Daemon 2001)
Anybody (Daemon 1999)
Dragersville (1998)
Vast Chest (1995)

Hot Hands: A Tribute to Throwing Muses & Kristin Hersh (Kuma-Chan 2003)
Voices on the Verge (Rykodisc 2001)
Home Brewed in the Windy City (Starbucks & WXRT 1999)
Best of Unsigned Acoustic Music 1998 (1998)


Feeling a bit camera shy


"Rose exists on a level all her own... no one can touch her... botanical love songs... dark histories... as holy as a mystic, as profane as your perverted fantasies."
Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls

"Intense, passionate, and haunted!"
Performing Songwriter

"In their psychic intensity, Polenzani's compositions sometimes evoke the spirit of the late Velvet Underground chanteuse Nico, albeit without that singer's icy aloofness. Indeed, Polenzani's breathy, tremulous voice has a beckoning power more akin to that of a child ghost in a graveyard."
Request Magazine

"Somewhere in-between the raw emotion of singer Patty Griffin and the poetry of Anne Sexton, you'll find Rose Polenzani. Her newest release is, in a word, captivating."
Utne Reader

"Hypnotic, Complex and Alluring!"
Boston Globe

"One of the best songwriters around... Rose Polenzani actually has a chance to pick up the Mitchell mantle."
BUST Magazine

"Her songwriting is bold and uncompromising, with beautifully cast features and a wisdom that defies her young age. Her lyrics are a brilliant blur of sexuality and social commentary, intoned with the most esoteric of voices."
Southeast Performer

"The fiery rough-hewn 'Angel' [on Anybody] spews an intensity not far removed from P.J. Harvey's 4-Track Demos, while more pensive tracks like 'Omen' achieve an otherworldly quality that transcends musical categories, much like Rickie Lee Jones's early work. Anybody has me searching for Polenzani's self-released 1998 debut, Dragersville."

"Tremulous and lovely... one of the evening's few genuine solo turns."
Chicago Tribune

"These [songs are] all filled with musings of dark mystery, humid fantasy, and identity crises. Just the sort of naked thoughts you'd expect to be floating richly about in the 2 a.m. dim light of a hidden back bedroom."
Illinois Entertainer