CD Review – Denise Moser “Here Right Now”
I’ve always viewed musicians in this way: bands are construction workers, industrialists. They have to work within a democratic system: what are we going to play, how are we going to play it and do we all agree? Basically, bands build a personality around themselves, their partnership and that ultimately defines who the band is – by the music, the show and their identity. If they’re lucky.
The Who are a rock band, but so are the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and the Beach Boys – but, no one would ever mistaken who was who. This is great brand identity at work and for each of them – it has served them well for decades.
Then there are the singer-songwriters.
It doesn’t matter if they are in that elite arena of Carole King, James Taylor, Tom Waits, Patti Smith, John Prine, Elvis Costello, Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell or Leonard Cohen. Or the less familiar, yet respected level of Judee Sill, Ruthann Friedman, Julie Miller, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Robin Holcomb, Buffy Sainte-Marie and like-minded talents that have lasted through the years – yet, are not household names.
These singer-songwriters are like painters – Warhol, Renoir, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Jackson Pollack and Georgia O’Keeffe and such. Singer-songwriters are like the artists who work alone to create something solely from their own personal identity – from nothing. There is no one to consult because it’s their name that goes on the packaging. These songs, melodies and lyrics are who they are. Audiences will draw conclusions on these small pieces of artwork – these mini-biographical three minute tales.
In actuality, singers who can write, effectively, are actually few and far between despite the glut that is in the industry. Many people take this for granted. I am a singer, I play the piano and guitar and naturally, I can write great melodies and lyrics. Well, here’s a news flash: it’s not true.
Many great singers and musicians can perform and play but few are truly great writers. I find many “original” songs to be cliché riddled, same old stories, same chord structures, same words and phrases rhyming and though most audiences wouldn’t notice it – the true artist that lasts for decades as a singer-songwriter is that writer that tries to tell their story just a little differently. Paul Simon has done this to the point of winning with “Graceland,” and losing with “The Capeman.”
Then there are writers who just write the same song again and again or a variation of it. It becomes a formula. It’s easy to run out of steam in this business. First album is brilliant, second doesn’t come for ten years or it’s due in six months – the artist spent all their formative years writing their initial masterpieces and now they have to write 10 more songs in six months. The music fails.
It’s called the sophomore jinx. Dreaded condition for the artist. It actually happened to the rock band The Cars, Dire Straits, in some respects Boston and several other bands – but, the writers in those bands were smart enough to correct the failings. Not everyone is lucky.
This brings us to many wonderful independent artists who solely for the purpose of loving their craft try to consistently put some product out that is meaningful and has purpose.
Denise Moser is such an artist.
Her 1996 CD “Bright Side Up,” was found at a record store years ago and because I always brought a portable CD player I was able to preview tracks right in the store.
“Love Is a Strange Bird,” interested me with excellent production, a driving beat and Denise’s voice had that perfect combination of folk and country in equal measure. The song that really impressed me was “The End or the Start,” which to this day I sincerely believe has a place in the catalog of Emmylou Harris, Roseanne Cash, Beth Nielsen Chapman or anyone who can convey the warm sincerity that Denise originally sang on her poignant tune.
It’s been years since I knew whether Denise Moser disappeared into obscurity, became domesticated, ran for office or opened a health store. I had her CD on my desk recently and all the tracks had been played except for one. I decided to play it and glancing down at a yellow sticker in the CD was a little sentence from 1997 that read: “she’s a good vocalist and songwriter.” So, I went to YouTube and there she was with some new music all these years later – and the new songs are – as to be expected — excellent.
Now, the word excellent is a loaded word. If you’re a David Allan Coe, Steve Earle, late career Johnny Cash or Kris Kristofferson fanatic – no, this isn’t for you even though you would find some of these tracks interesting. Denise is not an outlaw artist.
Instead, she is a flower taken from the vase of the pop-oriented Joan Baez, the lighter side of Judy Collins, the early Joni Mitchell, definitely Ruthann Friedman, and Carole King. Because Denise likes to tell little reflective stories that are easy to relate to and they do leave you feeling like life may be worth living despite the many pits in the road.
I guess Denise could be called the Norman Rockwell singer-songwriter. There are family oriented tracks, reflective childhood songs, slabs of reality, fears of growing older, broken hearted times, endearing moments and walks down memory lane type journeys.
“Here Right Now,” — the new CD – contains eleven tracks with many optimistic twists and turns all recorded in various places in Maryland, Delaware, New York State and Pennsylvania. Her original guitar player Marc Moss is still with her – and he produced this new collection.
Denise has mentioned that one of her favorite artists is Joni Mitchell. A tall order to try and emulate but Denise comes very close on her opening track. Clever lyrics married to a wonderful airy arrangement on “I Believe.” Her lyrics are well thought out – poetry in that early Joni Mitchell style. Not the heavier handed jazzier lyrics that came later.
“I believe in winter boots, and in clean slate snowy days, in knee deep walks through the neighborhood and in a dried oak fire blaze.”
Video: “I Believe” –
Denise performs her song with all the intensity, enthusiasm of a 60’s artist who is determined yet she does not sound like someone stuck in another far away decade. Her songs are like scented candles, that aroma you smell when you walk into a candle store and each song’s meaning is firmly anchored in today.
“Here Right Now,” the title song is a melodic treat and Marc Moss offers the percussion. Because this CD is primarily just Denise and Marc there’s no big band approach – yet the songs are still full and rich.
As I mentioned earlier – Denise seems like she is from the tradition started by singer-songwriter Ruthann Friedman — this song reminds me of Ruthann here. Ruthann shined briefly in 1969 – with her solo Warner Brothers album “Constant Companion.” But, Ruthann’s claim to fame wasn’t her album – even though that album was also very Joni Mitchell oriented. Ruthann is the author of the huge hit “Windy,” that The Association took to the top of the charts. This song by Denise is very much like “Windy” — it has a wonderfully memorable melody, crisp guitars and it tickles your brain.
Denise performs this in a video that is surreal in color and looks quite cool with her shades and images of childhood. We are all here right now but for a brief time and we should appreciate every moment. This song would sound great in a cafe with empty Chianti wine bottles and candles spilling over dried wax. Some hot cappucino and being wrapped up in an afghan blanket near a fireplace. Nice to listen to a song and be able to conjure up images of how it could make you feel.
Videos: “Here Right Now” –
“Oldest Dream,” continues to showcase Denise’s love of words and never stoops to cliché. The instrumental break is marvelous and the guitars have been recorded in a very sparkling manner with heart wrenching tugs.
“I’ll make friends with your ghosts,” is quite a gripping line and Denise Moser songs have many of these quotable lines throughout her lyrics.
Denise Moser needs no help with her material. She knows and understands who she is as a singer and what she wants to say and says it brilliantly. “Coming Home,” reminds me of Mary Chapin Carpenter who weaves similar tales but Denise’s choice of words is quite different and this is what maintains Denise’s hospitable style.
The bravest song on the collection — sung unaccompanied is “Unfinished Song.” Denise renders this short reflective song perfectly. Not an easy thing to sing with no instruments.
It’s like walking a trapeze with no net. You are alone.
“Lucid Dreaming,” sounds like a song Joan Baez could consider covering. No politics, but a steady walk through coping. This has a little of the jazzier Joni Mitchell guitar sound snaking around — but it’s never heavy or overbearing. Again, Denise’s lyrics play a major role as important as the music itself. Nothing is cluttered or wears out its welcome.
So far, this new collection has not repeated itself. Each song is set-apart from the previous and is a good example of how hard Ms. Moser works at keeping her material engaging.
The mandolin flavored “This House,” is a fine showcase for Denise’s warm and sincere vocals. So warm and sincere you feel almost like crying for joy. It has a motherly-safe sound that a child likes to hear in a lullaby. This is another trait Denise has – to be able to weave into her material a personal touch. You know she is telling the truth with every chord she plays. Again, Mary Chapin Carpenter comes to mind, as well as, Beth Nielsen Chapman and Kris McKay – they have that quality voice as well. This is a very special song – an excellent video of this track is featured here.
Videos: “This House” –
“Boy Store,” with its playful melody and lyric reminiscent of John Prine’s unique storytelling approach allows Denise to display her creative sense of humor. All artists need to lighten up and have a sense of humor somewhere in their collections. Thank God an artist like John Prine is consistent with that and Tom Waits knows how to inject a few every now and then into his albums.
Though this song is taking a different lane on the highway – it does fit comfortably on “Here Right Now,” without allowing the album’s momentum to slow down or suggest mediocrity.
And the album doesn’t slow down. The next track “Alisa’s Song,” is one of the best. A short-story about returning home, packing up after 17-years, getting ready to drive all the way back East where it’s cold, “….and I’ll find a new way a long way from here.”
This is quite good and why independent artists are important. They dig deeper than many established singer-songwriters, they dig where others don’t look. They seek that every day story that others find hard to put into words and most importantly, anyone who listens can relate to. Artists such as this don’t have to worry about their images – so, they do let the music do the talking.
“I Remember,” is Denise’s equivalent to her 1996 track “The End or the Start,” with its deeply poignant Denise Moser style: “but across the miles from you I’ll remember.” It almost sounds as if Denise has arrived East finally from the Golden Gate in the previous song and is now continuing to tell the story from her new and different place: her voice is now simply in a reminiscing mode with no regrets just good memories. These two songs tie together effectively because the stories and mood seem to go together – whether this was intended or not I am not sure but, this was my interpretation.
“Open Space,” is excellent. Denise Moser has chosen to be daring and stretch her imagination into eleven songs that are written so well none sound like they have been re-written from another time.
Many songwriters will have two or three great melodies on their albums but then things start to sound the same. Why?
Simple answer. It’s not easy to write eleven songs over the course of an entire album. But, Denise is not prolific. She doesn’t have a glut of material on the market. She takes her time and she seems to be economical in her choices of what best represents her.
So, what is Denise Moser guilty of?
Maybe she has been away too long. She should have had more CDs between 1996 and now. But maybe she felt she needed to insure that what she actually put out was consistent with the quality of that first CD back in 1996.
She is young still and I am being selfish. It costs money to produce an album and you do have to come up with all that original music. I have faith in Denise though and I think all she really has to do is be a little more aggressive business-wise to wrangle those ears she needs to hear her music. I think she’s here to stay and will gain some new momentum.
Any major recording artist would be pleased to share a bill with Denise Moser. She would only add more class, humanity and a little of latter day hippie-dom to the venue.
As usual, though it’s an independent release the artwork and the engineering/production on the CD are very well done.
I enjoyed the majority of the songs and do have favorites. There wasn’t a single track on this album I would consider filler. Denise has produced a finely assorted collection of varied songs with interesting stories that will endure. Now she has to hit the road and start bringing those fine melodies to an attentive audience.
Visit Denise Moser’s website for more information and where her CDs can be purchased.
There are several live shows in Pennsylvania in February and March — all listed on her website under Appearances. You won’t be disappointed. Wear some flowers in your hair and a pair of shades.
John Apice / No Depression / January 25, 2013