Album Review: Ciarra Fragale’s Self-titled LP
ALBANY — Ciarra Fragale’s self-titled album, released July 2, contains excellent production elements new and old to the artist, and is chock full of songs that make you bounce along in some places and muse heavily in others.
The album starts off with “All Mine,” with choppy guitar sounds that can only be achieved post-production. Nevertheless, this push and pull of the guitar is lifted greatly by the sixteenth-note hi-hat groove that builds underneath. What I really liked about this song, and the album for that matter, is the arrangement. Near its end, “All Mine” breaks down into a sort of ¾ feel, but not exactly, before opening back up again to its conclusion.
The next song, “Drive Home,” is far more stripped back. While the song starts with just a guitar, synth, and vocals, after the first chorus it sonically expands to include drums and bass. The part of this song that grabbed my ear the most was how the guitar solo was doubled by Ciarra’s whistling. This was a really interesting choice of direction.
Throughout the album – in my view, Ciarra always had a knack for interesting metaphors – the lyrics grab my ear with their curious wordplay coupled with the topics they are discussing. For example, in “It’s Only Raining” (track three), the song features the line in the chorus, “It’s only raining in your mind.” While I’d never heard that phrase before, I instantly knew what emotion she was trying to convey. “Shapeshifter” (track four), is highly reminiscent of Ciarra’s earlier work, albeit showing even further artistic development. A song that evaluates what love truly is, whether it is carnal, platonic, romantic, and so on, the production is truly sparkling on this particular song.
Although Ciarra’s sound is highly dependent on guitar and synth – the former of which includes some of the lushest, and clean guitar tones to this listener – it was really interesting to hear track five, “To See Your Face,” as it starts off with a grooving bassline. While the album isn’t what I’d call a “concept album,” Ciarra does weave a vague, overarching story throughout the record, dealing with topics of love, relationships of any kind, and from this listener’s viewpoint, the aftermath of touring and the “Drive Home.” In fact, the latter topic is so pertinent to Ciarra that she wrote and included on the album a follow-up to track two with “Drive Home Part II” (track six). These two tunes are sonically similar; both are in minor keys, however, “Part II” is in a higher key. It effectively takes off right where the first part ended.
“Been Here Before” (track seven), is another tune that heavily relies on the bass for its groove, and the syncopated guitar, along with what sounds like effects emulating a Leslie speaker (think classic rotary-sound style speaker), makes the song very interesting and enjoyable. Though “Heroes” (track eight) isn’t a Ciarra original – the original of course being penned by the late, great David Bowie – it was very nice to see this included in the record. This song was the first I’d ever hear Ciarra perform years ago when we first met, and it’s been amazing to see her artistic development throughout the years. Flowing right into the next song, “Heroes” ends with the intro to “Too Good (For You, Baby).” Layered guitars, playing off back and forth with the drums, and lush harmonies make this a great track. Finally, the closing song, “You Don’t Call Me Anymore,” is arguably her most ambitious arrangement to date. The closing track ebbs and flows in just the right spaces, featuring drums later on in the song, and continuously added guitars and synths. Coupling all of that with the rich lyrical content within the tune, and an extended instrumental that recedes into nothingness make it the perfect song to close the album.
There are many things that I like about this record, but what I love most about it is the ambition that pours out from it. Not only did Fragale write and arrange some amazing pieces of art, but she also played the majority of instruments on this damned thing. Taking the majority of the drumming – Eli Marzano contributes to drums on tracks one, eight, nine, and ten – Fragale also performs all the guitars as well as synths. Andy Cass takes up the duty of bass guitar for the entire album The other guest musicians Becky Waterhouse (piano keys on “It’s Only Raining) and Will McGovern (saxophone, “Too Good (For You, Baby)”). Ciarra Fragale truly knocked it out of the park and then some with her latest release.