Tywanna Jo Baskette's debut album begins with a breath and ends with a giggle. In between are nineteen improvisational songs about many diverse subjects. From her parents' deaths from lung cancer in "1985/1998" to "I Love Goat Cheese" -- where she makes the word "udders" into something beautiful -- to how "everything goes pop pop pop" ("Pop Pop"), Baskette travels with her "little girl" voice across her emotional landscape. And she had me enthralled the whole time. Her songwriting is also childlike -- seemingly coming from nowhere with unconventional rhythms and changes, sometimes rhyming, always evocative.
Fancy Blue is so unlike modern popular music that, at first, it doesn't know where to go in my head. The closest comparison I can make is to the experimental pop of the Microphones. Their songs don't always jibe on the first listen, but when you let go of preconceptions, they burrow their way into your soul. Tywanna Jo Baskette's "pass-alongs" are just like that. She is not musically trained and can't play an instrument, but she's been writing off-the-cuff songs since she was twelve. She'd sing them, then they were gone. It wasn't until a friend began following her around with a microcassette recorder that any of them survived at all.
These are songs she has written for herself, not for me or you, or to have a hit record. They're completely genuine. It will be difficult for some people to really understand what she is doing, and those people are likely to jump to criticism. But those who are able to, think of her songs as you would a song a child extemporaneously created -- about pots and pans, or Rover, or whatever -- except that her lyrics contain evidence of a close familiarity with death. There are moments of joy and trauma on
Fancy Blue, like how "Pinky" (co-written with Bobby Bare, Jr., and one of the few cuts with drums) turns from the shocking event of a beau seeing her in her pink underwear before their first date, into "someday my prince will come and he will call me Pinky." Free-association reigns supreme, calling into being lyrics that are connected by tangents. Memories, experiences, strange events, commercial jingles, all of these are worked into Baskette's "lullabies for adults."
This level of truth has been replaced so much by artifice that it is refreshing to see it surface again. She will likely get lost in the shuffle of singer-songwriter albums and that is unfortunate because
Fancy Blue is a record that hits all the right notes, just not the ones you expect.
This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on
The Green Man Review. Copyright 2003. Reprinted with permission.
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