January 20, 2004

Paula Frazier "A Place Where I Know"

Paula Frazer has one of those voices. You know the type: deep, soothing and disturbing, her singing has a voice that's tender and yet worrying. Her band, Tarnation, released one of the best records of the 1990s, Gentle Creatures, but because of label issues, an ever rotating band lineup and general apathy of the music world, she's languished in obscurity, coming out to play only infreqently. In her ten year career, she's released exactly four records--three with Tarnation and an excellent solo album, and that's simply unfair. On the surface, Frazer's new record, A Place Where I Know, isn't really a new record at all, as it consists of demos of previously released songs from all stages of her career.

While it may seem a bit redundant for such a record to exist, if it serves any purpose, it's to highlight Frazer's powerful singing. Stripped down to just voice and guitar, it becomes quite obvious that the dark atmospheric production of her albums actually restrained her powerful voice. True, the Morricone-style spaghetti western stylings of Tarnation were wonderful, but Frazer was always the focus of the band and it's clear to see that all of the accompaniment wasn't really necessary. I'm not complaining, mind you; Gentle Creatures is easily a lost classic, due in part to genius production from Warn Defever.

If Frazer had simply forced the issue that she was Tarnation, or if she had set out under her own name with nothing more than her demos to release, the world wouldn't have blinked, and, really, would they have been any wiser? Listening to "The Hand" and "Halfway to Madness," I'm hard-pressed to say that you would. In fact, with the stripped-down, haunting sounds of natural echo and acoustic guitar, Frazer sounds like a ghost--her voice is utterly chilling and haunting and disturbing---in the most beautiful of ways. I'm most fond of "Like A Ghost," because when she sings "Follow time/Like a ghost I long to wander," I believe her.

Still, the one quibble I have with A Place Where I Know comes not from the music but from my own love of Frazer's back work. I'd love to hear more demos from the Tarnation days, especially Gentle Creatures. At this point in her career, I'm simply happy to hear anything new from her, so I won't really complain too much. For those wanting an introduction to Frazer, it's perhaps best to hold off on A Place Where I Know and head directly to Gentle Creatures. It's a grand, epic collection of songs, and it really holds up well over time; you should hear that before getting overwhelmed with the full-strength dose of her voice.

(The CD also features video of her singing three songs, none of which played on my computer, and all of which are new. Frustration! But from what I've heard, they're lovely, and the fact that they were left off the audio portion is even more upsetting. Oh well, I'm still waiting for a new record!)

--Joseph Kyle

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